“Near East to Far West: Fictions of French and American Colonialism” is open in the Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum through May 29 and is filled with stories, color and historic interpretations that may be a bit skewed at times.
It includes more than 80 artworks that explore the ways artists were influenced by the style of French Orientalism as they explored ways to portray the story of the American West, its landscapes and inhabitants ... including indigenous people and those more recently arrived ...
Curated by Jennifer Henneman, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum, the exhibit ranges from works by French artists, who were exposed to life in exotic Algiers and American artists, some of whom were trained in France, reflected.
The market for those American artists was mainly on the East Coast and a number of them lived and painted in Taos, New Mexico, depicting the scenes in and around Taos and neighboring desert landscapes as well as scenes from an artist’s imagination.
A visitor will see images of Taos Pueblo and its residents, and African battles that involve lions. There are elaborate Oriental interior scenes, with brightly-costumed characters, desert vistas and pueblo architecture that resembles the sunbaked locations in the Arab world.
An amusing pair of drawings by Charles Russell show two views of his studio: the first, as his mother imagined it: with a neatly dressed artist entertaining a fashionable woman, posing on elaborate furniture. The other, depicts the artist and his Native American buddy seated in a bare-bones mountain cabin as the painter, sitting on a wooden crate, draws from his imagination ...
French Orientalism and Western American art “reflect fears, desires and curiosities about unknown lands during the process of colonization” in the western part of North America and in Africa and the Islamic world.
This collection of big, colorful paintings really takes the visitor on a trip ... Oriental scenes may include lions fighting mounted horsemen, as well as exotic women with flowers in their hair and pilgrims on camels, bound for Mecca ...
Imagination was alive and well in the mid-19th century on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, even though we read of excessive focus on proper behavior in the cities and small towns.
And the painterly skills were at front and center of these works, with swooshes of brilliant color, exotic costumes and a sense of humor as well.
Admission to “Near East to Far West” is included with general admission and is free for members.
The Denver Art Museum is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday evenings, and is located at 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway in Denver.