About the Work of Art:

Worthington Whittredge (1820–1910)
On the Cache La Poudre River, Colorado, 1876
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas







Worthington Whittredge said that his journeys westward were motivated by a desire to find subject matter distinctly different from that which he had admired in European landscape painting. Between 1866 and 1871, he made three trips to the Rocky Mountains, where the open expanse of the Great Plains captured his imagination. “I had never seen the plains or anything like them,” he wrote. “They impressed me deeply. I cared more for them than for the mountains . . . [and] could hardly fail to be impressed with [their] vastness and silence.” He saw this as something of a paradise: “Nothing could be more like an Arcadian landscape than was here presented to our view,” he exclaimed, “the earth covered with soft grass waving in the wind, with innumerable flowers.”

Whittredge’s approach to western scenery differed from that of colleagues such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, who concentrated on sublime images, landscapes with towering mountains, sheer rock cliffs, and exotic natural phenomena. Instead, Whittredge focused on the large, horizontal expanses of sky and land, particularly the prairies. He made delicate oil sketches on the spot, which served as source material for later paintings.

This large canvas, depicting the cottonwood trees along the Cache La Poudre River that frame a view to the mountains beyond, is one of the grandest productions to come from Whittredge’s experience in the West. Based on a study made during his third and final journey there, the subsequent painting was executed in his New York studio five years after the trip.

Cascading wildly out of the Rocky Mountains, the river settles as it meets the Colorado plains near Fort Collins. It then falls 7,000 feet from its mountain source to where it joins the South Platte River at Greeley, Colorado. Cache la poudre is French for "hiding place of powder." According to legend, French trappers with the American Fur Company met a severe snowstorm while traveling through the river valley with heavily laden wagons. They decided to leave behind unessential supplies. They dug a large pit and stored the supplies, which included hundreds of pounds of gun powder or “poudre.” After covering the hole with dirt, they lit a fire to conceal all evidence the ground had been disturbed. This successful hiding place, or “cache,” gave the river its name.

The Cache la Poudre River had proven to be a memorable stop on Whittredge’s earlier travels. A reporter for the Greeley Tribune noted:

Whittredge, a New York artist of no little celebrity . . . has been stopping several weeks in our town, making sketches of mountain and river scenery. The sketches made have been from various points along the river, and several in the neighborhood of the island . . . . A large cotton wood has been sketched and partly painted, and it now looks as though it would become a remarkably fine picture . . . . Some of his views of the Cache la Poudre are charming, for there can be no more picturesque stream in the world.

This painting excursion also marked the end of Whittredge’s activity as a western landscape painter. On the Cache La Poudre River, Colorado is the last of his Colorado pictures.


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