Sure, the West has inspired its share of romantic landscapes: Albert Bierstadt’s springtime pastorale (is that Ferdinand the Bull drowsing in the foreground?), Thomas Moran’s luminous Grand Canyon (complete with rainbow), and Eadweard Muybridge’s awestruck photograph of Wm. H Seward and a massive Mariposa Grove sequoia, to name just a few of the examples you can see in the Legion of Honor show Wild West: Plains to the Pacific. But among the works on display—all selected from the permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to complement the concurrent Ed Ruscha exhibit at the de Young—are some rather more jaundiced, or at least more complicated, takes on the region, including Ester Hernandez’s not-at-all-sunny screenprint Sun Mad (the raisin industry should be wincing), Peter Hurd’s bleak-but-beautiful vision of life on the plains, and, perhaps the most bittersweet, Robert Bechtle’s lithograph portrait of a cowboy who’s been reduced to selling vacuum cleaners door to door.
Robert Bechtle, “Hoover Man (Man with Vacuum Cleaner),” 1966. Lithograph on paper, sheet 20 5/8 x 14 15/16 in. FAMSF, Gift of the artist
Ester Hernandez, “Sun Mad,” 1982. Color screenprint on paper, 22 x 17 in. Museum purchase, Judge George Henry Cabaniss and Harriet Howell Cabaniss Memorial Fund
Peter Hurd, “A Ranch on the Plains,” ca. 1954. Tempera on hardboard, 29 ¾ 47 1/8 in. FAMSF, Gift of the California Brewing Company
Thomas Moran, “Grand Canyon with Rainbow,” 1912. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in. FAMSF, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Gill through the Patrons of Art and Music
Eadweard Muybridge, “Wm. H Seward, 85 Feet in Circumference. Mariposa Grove of Mammoth Trees, No. 51,” 1872. Albumen silver print mounted to card stock, 16 15/16 x 21 9/16 in. (image) FAMSF, Gift of Mrs. Raymond Perkins
Featured Image: Albert Bierstadt, “California Spring,” 1875. Oil on canvas, 54 1/4 x 84 1/4 in. FAMSF, presented to the City and County of San Francisco by Gordon Blanding