Worthington Whittredge: An artist's draw to Colorado
Born in Ohio, Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910) studied painting from an early age. As was common for the time period, Whittredge moved to Europe to study and learn from the art of the old Masters. After ten years abroad, Whittredge returned to New York and settled into a workspace at the Tenth Street Studio building in New York, working alongside artists like Albert Bierstadt and Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze.
Although he initially struggled to adapt his European training to the sights of his homeland, Whittredge quickly became known for his sensitively-painted, pastoral landscapes, which often display a softly glowing sun and warm color palette. Finding success with his Hudson River Style landscapes in New York and looking for new inspiration, Whittredge decided to take three trips West between 1865 and 1871.
Whittredge’s first trip to the Rockies was with a diplomatic expedition to what was then the Department of the Missouri near Santa Fe, New Mexico. On deciding to accompany the trip, Whittredge explained, “I went as a civilian on the staff of the General without connection with any newspaper, but to pursue my studies as I thought best or most to my advantage...the expedition was one of great interest and value to me.”
Led by General Pope, the group traveled from June, 1865 to October, 1866. This trip occurred prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, so the group traveled over two thousand miles by horseback. From Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the group traversed along the Oregon Trail, and then followed the South Platte to Denver. From there, the group went to Fort Morgan and up to Fort Collins, and then ultimately crossed the Rockies at the Spanish Peaks, went to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and returned via the old Cimarron trail in September.
Starting their treks (about 33 miles per day) early in the morning, the travelers usually stopped for the day at about 1:00 pm, which is when Whittredge would begin his sketches. Working until sundown, Whittredge created studies of the landscape with oil paint on long sheets of paper, about ten by twenty inches wide. The artist felt this was the best format in which to capture the wide expanse of the plains.
(Interested in learning more about western art? Denver Public Library's Western History/Genealogy Department has an expansive collection of western art pieces, as well as western art books that are available for browsing in our reading room.)
 Worthington Whittredge, The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge, 1820-1910. Ed. John I. H. Bauer (New York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 45.
 Natasha K. Brandstatter, “Wide Open Spaces: Arcadian Visions of the American West” in Colorado: The Artist’s Muse, ed. Laura Caruso, Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum, 2008. p. 33.
 Whittredge, Autobiography, p. 45
On July 2nd, the group arrived in Denver, where they stayed for several days. Whittredge said of the town, “Denver had the appearance of a spruced up mining camp. It had not lost the look of its ‘Pikes Peak’ mining days... the inhabitants were growing bold and predicting great things for their town.” The group camped about one mile from the American House, “the best hotel in the place.”
It is likely that Whittredge made drawings of the Platte River during his time in Denver, which were used later in a series of paintings that gave monumental treatment to his western sketches. Paintings like “Encampment on the Platte River” at the American Museum of Western Art—The Anschutz Collection (AMWA), captivated the artist and capture the vastness of the Great Plains:
I had never seen the plains or anything like them. They impressed me deeply. I cared more for them than for the mountains, and very few of my western pictures have been produced from sketches made in the mountains, but rather from those made on the plains with the mountains in the distance. Whoever crossed the plains at that period, not withstanding its herds of buffalo and flocks of antelope, its wild horses, deer and fleet rabbits, could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence.
As this quote exemplifies, rather than focusing on the sublime and awesome beauty of the Rockies, Whittredge preferred to focus his compositions on the large, horizontal expanses of sky and grassland. He created about forty oil sketches of the scenery on-site, and returned to his studio later to create larger, more complete paintings like the one at AMWA.
Whittredge traveled to Colorado again in 1870, this time by train, accompanied by the artist John Frederick Kensett.
During this visit, Whittredge again chose to focus his compositions on the quiet, serene beauty of the plains, capturing the pastoral views of the prairies instead of the rugged and towering Rockies. He and Kensett spent about a week in the Denver area, then headed north through the Valmont Valley to the town of Greely, traveling again along the Cache Le Poudre River. He completed several larger paintings based on sketches made during this trip.
Whittredge apparently took a third and final trip west in 1871, but the artist didn’t leave any records of the trip except for one drawing.
Whittredge’s Western landscapes form only a portion of his entire body of work, but they give us a lasting impression of the impact Colorado had on the individuals who encountered them in the early days of expeditions. As the artist himself said, “A landscape painter is only at home when he is out of doors.”
The painting highlighted in this blog can be seen in person at the American Museum of Western Art—The Anschutz Collection every Monday and Wednesday, as well as on Colorado Day, the Museum’s annual celebration of Colorado’s statehood. Reserve a spot for yourself and your friends by clicking here: http://www.anschutzcollection.org/special-programs/summer-programs/.
 Anthony F. Jansen, “The Western Landscape of Worthington Whittredge,” American Art Review 3, no. 6 (November-December 1976), p. 58. Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, “Five Eastern Artists Out West,” American Art Journal 5, no. 2 (November 1973), p. 19.
 Whittredge, Autobiography, p. 46.
 Whittredge, Autobiography, p. 45.
 Whittredge, Autobiography, p. 45.
 Cheryl A. Cibulka, Quiet Places: The American Landscapes of Worthington Whittredge. (Washington, D.C., Adams Davidson Galleries Inc., 1982): p. 24.
 Cibulka, Quiet Places, p. 24.
 Whittredge, Autobiography, p. 53.
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