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Pioneers of the West

1934 Helen Lundeberg Born: Chicago, Illinois 1908 Died: Los Angeles, California 1999 oil on canvas 40 x 50 1/4 in. (101.7 x 127.7 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the General Services Administration 1985.8.27 Not currently on view


Luce Center Label

Helen Lundeberg created this painting while employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal program that employed artists during the Great Depression. Like other WPA artists, Lundeberg depicted a hopeful view of the United States during a time of turmoil and uncertainty by showing a dreamlike image of western expansion. The group of pioneers, with their backs to the viewer, follows an ox-drawn wagon into a valley. The monumental figures appear strong and assured in their forward progress. Rising mountains melt into the sun. Lundeberg's style of mixing fantastic images with reality is evident in the background: The pink, rolling mountains blend into the orange, pink, and bluish haze of the sky; it is difficult to determine where the mountains end and the sky begins. The careful use of space and dreamlike elements in Pioneers of the West is representative of Lundeberg's postsurrealist style. This movement, derived from surrealism, purposely combined fantasy with reality and was predominantly found on the West Coast.

Keywords

Animal - cattle

Figure group

History - United States - westward expansion

Travel - land - wagon

Western

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - California

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas