- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2001

''Painters and the American West: The Anschutz Collection," opening today at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is not a Roy Rogers-and-Trigger, "king of the cowboys" adventure display.
This is a handsome, serious exhibit of work by artists painting our countrys Western regions.
Well-known painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, George Catlin, Frederic Remington, Ernest Blumenschein and Georgia OKeeffe portrayed the West as they wanted to see it and as they desired the public to experience it.
If you require reality, visit the "Native Land: Photographs From the Robert G. Lewis Collection" on the Corcorans main floor. The photographers worked on location to document landscapes and American Indians. They also idealized their subjects, but verification was primary.
The situation was very different for the painters. The artist Moran painted a turbulent waterfall crashing down a mountain in 1866. Titled "Children of the Mountain," it could be a scene from the Rockies. But it came from his imagination he created the painting in France. Moran only visited the mountains five years later, though he had made sketches on an earlier trip to Lake Superior in the Midwest.
His true inspirations were the pictures J.M.W. Turner painted of the Swiss Alps in 1862. Moran saw the Englishmans landscapes while he lived in Europe.
George de Forest Brush idealized the American Indian just as Moran visually extolled the Western landscape. Brush studied Greek and Roman classical models while studying in France. His teachers also were influenced by Italian Renaissance masters.
Brush studied the Shoshones, Arapaho and Crows in Wyoming and Montana after returning from France in 1880. The artist looked to Michelangelo when he did "Picture Writers Story" (circa 1884).
Exhibit curator Joan Troccoli tells us the Indian lounging in the foreground of the painting comes from Michelangelo Buonarrotis "Adam" on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelos muscular proportions also inspired those of the "picture writer." As the central figure, the Indian recalls his military adventures for the other braves.
Even Remington, that icon of American Western painters, didnt live in the wilds. After a brief stab at running a sheep ranch in Kansas, Remington returned to his native New York City and developed sketches he made in the West.
You may be disappointed this is not the "real West" of the American film industrys endless Westerns, but it is a drop-dead gorgeous show. Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who began collecting in the 1960s, built what is considered the best accumulation of Western art by an individual.
The collection encompasses 180 years of American art and is divided into six chronological sections "First Painters of the American West," "Western Landscape," "Romance of the Old West," "California Painters," "Modern Landscape" and "Taos and Santa Fe.". The selections at the Corcoran begin with Catlins "Interior View of the Medicine Lodge, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony" (1832) and end with Fritz Scholders "An American Portrait" (1979). Mr. Anschutz has collected more than 650 paintings and drawings and is still buying.
The Corcorans selection of 75 paintings also telescopes the panorama of Americas styles and eras. Its a long way from the melting golden light of Bierstadts gigantic "Wind River, Wyoming" of 1870 to the expressionism of Marsden Hartleys diminutive "New Mexico Recollections" of 1923.
Catlin sets the stage in the gallery of the first artist-explorers. The artist had very little formal training. After returning from London in 1825, he found he could not compete with the more polished painters of New York. He believed financial success lay in the unsettled West and traveled there in the 1830s.
Mr. Anschutz purchased three Catlins portraying Mandan Indian ceremonies "Bull Dance," "Interior View of the Medicine Lodge" and "The Last Race" and they are on view in the Corcoran show. The painting and compositions are somewhat awkward, but they do tell us about the Mandan tribe.
The paintings originally were part of the artists "Indian Gallery," a group of more than 600 portraits, landscapes and everyday scenes that Catlin painted between 1828 and 1848. The painter took the gallery on tour beginning in 1833. It went to cities in the United States, Great Britain and Europe quite a feat in those days.
The Corcoran exhibit progresses and changes along with the artists visions. The gallery "Purple Mountains Majesties" shows grand, magnificent views of the Western landscapes. Painters such as Moran and Bierstadt aimed to play down Europes scenery with the Wests spectacular forests, rivers and mountains.
Americas romance with its West gallops right along in succeeding galleries titled "Romance of the Old West" and "Allure of New Mexico." Miss Troccoli highlights the frontier fighter Indians, cowboys and cavalrymen painted by Charles Marion Russell and Remington.
Neither actually experienced what was called "the Old West," which recent historians label "the West that never was." Russell and Remington continued to idealize it, however, by painting the frontiersmen as mythic heroes.
Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., attracted first-rate New York artists such as Blumenschein and Bert Phillips at the turn of the century. Blumenschein especially in paintings such as "Sangre de Cristo Mountains" patterned mountains and figures into distilled emotive forces.
For painters to move into modernism with its intense, semiabstract subjects was just one more step. Miss OKeeffe, John Marin, Stuart Davis and Andrew Dasburg were just a few of the New York artists who visited the Southwest to paint its landscapes, churches and Indians.
Unfortunately, the exhibit ends on a less-than-top-quality note. Surely, Mr. Anschutz could have found better examples of these artists works when the rest of his collection is so fine.

WHAT: "Painters and the American West: The Anschutz Collection"
WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesday, until 9 p.m. Thursday, through July 30
TICKETS: $5 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and member guests, $1 students
PHONE: 202/639-1700
SPONSOR: Anschutz Foundation, KPMG LLP and KPMG Consulting Inc. The Denver Art Museum org- anized the show.

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