Thursday, 12 May 2011
Prairie Fires of the Great West. Currier & Ives (1871)
This image is evocative of many others of its time, during the 19th Century it was popular for American artists to portray romanticised sybolism of the 'taming' of the West through disected imagry. The train cuts the land in half with the wild untamed grasses in the foreground oppossed to the smooth tamed green of the back ground, and the buffalo being chased off by the disasterous and destructive raging fire of industrialism. This image can be likened to others such as Thomas Coles The View from Mount Holyoke: The Oxbow (1836), and George Catlin Wi-Jun-Jon coming and going from Washington(1844)which all show a form of juxtaposition between the traditional 'wild' West and the industrialised or tamed American West.
Currier and Ives were fond of the romatic sybolism of trains and incorporated them into many of their Lithographs, many with similar symbolism and imagry invoking the difference between civilised and wild. According to the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum's website, during the 19th Century train travel and the 'push to the West' captivated the American peoples imagination and Currier and Ives sought to document 'the beauty of a train as it moved accross our magnificent country'. The use of imagry to document the history of the American west allied with the relative low cost of lithographs and prints provides a valuable source of reference regarding the views and interests of the time and also highlight a shift away from more traditional landscapes to artwork that literally tells a story.