Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Oregon City on the Willamette River by John Mix Stanley

John Mix Stanley (1814–1872), Oregon City on the Willamette River, ca. 1850, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1979.17

This picture of Oregon City by John Mix Stanley was painted around 1850 when the town was fairly established having been founded in 1845. It had around 300 inhabitants and 100 houses, two churches and its own newspaper. It was one of the more prominent and successful frontier towns with a thriving fishing and lumber industry. However it had displaced the Native American tribes and also severely changed the landscape of the area.

                The image itself depicts an idyllic town bathed in sunshine it shows the houses, churches, and mills all set out along the main street adjacent to the Willamette River surrounded by hills and trees. It is an image that would appeal to an American from the east who believed the west to be the land of plenty. In the foreground we have two Indians with their backs turned toward the village one leaning against his gun with an almost resigned posture. The other is sitting down like she has given up trying to fight it. They are sat high above the town near some felled trees which shows that their landscape is being changed for the worse. Also they seem to be in the shadows or darkness, whereas the village itself is in the light showing that they are being pushed out. Without the presence of the two Indians the image would have a total different feel and meaning to it.

                The presence of the Willamette Indians means that this image depicts the ‘Manifest Destiny’ because it shows them resigned to their fate. Like they can do nothing to stop the habitation of their land, like it is already written. The fact that they are in the foreground may suggest that the artist, who was well known for painting Willamette Indians, shouldn’t be forgotten in the image of the West that the East of America so often sees.

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