DENVER (AP) â€” When Georgia O'Keeffe first saw the West, she knew it was her country. With the first sunset she also knew she shouldn't say too much because others might like it as much as she.
``And I don't want them interested,'' she said.
Her paintings said it all, though, and like the works of many other artists, she couldn't help but entice the curious.
``It is hard to overstate the role art played in bringing people West. Many came to see certain images: brilliant landscapes, Native Americans posing for you,'' says Western historian Tom Noel.
``And you could see it from the comfort of a railroad car and stay in a Fred Harvey hotel. Railroads employed writers, painters and photographers to promote heritage tourism. They realized they had another gold mine.''
Some of the art commissioned by railroads is featured in an exhibition of the most prestigious Western art collection in private hands, which is running at the Denver Art Museum through Jan. 21. ``Painters and the American West,'' includes many of the most famous works in the collection of billionaire Philip Anschutz, once a railroad baron, now a telecommunications king.
The commissioned art is only a small part of the show.
The 103 paintings include works by American artists who studied in Europe, even modeled their work on Roman, Greek and Italian masters. ``They should be judged as art, not as history. Life and art are two different things,'' says Joan Carpenter Troccoli, an expert on Western art and former curator of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla.
In ``The Elk Hunter,'' for example, Bert Phillips painted an Indian hunter who seemed underdressed for a winter day on a high mountain.
William de Leftwich Dodge was a Virginian, but studied at and adopted the Impressionist style of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. His mural, ``The Death of Minnehaha,'' tells in brush strokes Longfellow's ``Death of Minnehaha'' canto from Hiawatha.
Some of the most notable works are by two men who did dirty their denims and blister their bums in West. Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington, whose work almost defines how the West was won, are featured. Remington's ``Apache Trail'' and Russell's ``The Scouts'' are displayed.
Charles Schreyvolgel's ``The Silenced War Hoop'' shows a cavalry man pulling his horse back after shooting a warrior. A fan of Buffalo Bill Cody, his paintings touted the soldier as friend and hero to settlers.
Many of the works go the other extreme and promote stereotypes, painting Native Americans as ``noble,'' such as ``Crouching Eagle'' by Henry Inman. Fritz Scholder, a contemporary painter of one-quarter Indian ancestry, targets the stereotype of the ``nobel savage'' in ``An American Portrait.''
Alfred Jacob Miller makes his patron, Capt. William Drummond Stewart, out to be hero in ``The Crows Attempting to Provoke an Attack From the Whites.''
More mystical works include Tavernier's soaring ``Waiting for Montezuma,'' and the most modern piece is ``Merging of Cultures,'' painted in 1997 by Douglas Wiggins. The blending of Anglo, Indian and Hispanic cultures fairly jumps off the canvas in screaming bright colors.
A utopian vision of a plains alive with buffalo instead of prairie schooners is the focus of William Jacob Hay's ``The Gathering of the Herds.''
Several George Caitlin works are on view.
Three of the nine galleries focus on the rich art that developed from Taos and Santa Fe in New Mexico, and include O'Keeffe's ``Another Church.''
The exhibition is designed to be child-friendly, with separate audio tapes for children designed to keep their attention.
The art treasures of Anschutz had traveled as far as Moscow and Beijing before being withdrawn from circulation in 1991. After its stay here, it will travel to The Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., and the Joslyn in Omaha, Neb.
Anschutz helped pay for the display of the collection in Denver, and Yale University Press has published ``Painters and the American West, The Anschutz Collection.''
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