A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie
As much as this painting is captivating, it is a powerful piece of propaganda. Albert Bierstadt was not successful in securing an official commission from the U.S. government. But he was one of many artists—like Frederic Edwin Church, whose work you can also see in this gallery—who intentionally contributed to the colonialist and expansionist mythology of the Americas as untouched wilderness, ripe for European conquest.
Conquests come in many forms, including the naming of landmarks. At the time of this painting, Bierstadt was already known for naming mountains after public figures—like Frederic W. Lander, an explorer and Civil War hero—as a way to flatter them as well as a means to reinforce his own image as an adventurer discovering these places for the first time.
Here, Bierstadt endearingly—albeit boldly—named this striking peak near Denver, Colorado, Mount Rosalie after Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, whom he later married. Quite a courting strategy.
The mountain was eventually renamed Mount Evans after John Evans, a governor of the Colorado Territory. Evans’s dangerous imperialist attitudes fueled U.S. military aggression toward the Native American tribes in the Colorado region. They resulted in the Sand Creek Massacre, a devastating attack on the Arapaho and Cheyenne people that took place a year after Bierstadt visited the region.