Landscape as a form of theater and spectacle culminated in 19th-century American art with the work of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt. Both artists emigrated from Europe at young ages and went on to achieve success as interpreters of the American West. The new, epic landscape they depicted functioned as a national symbol of grandeur and promise, yet at the same time it served as rumination on the subject of nature and the divinity to be found within it.
Bierstadt first left the East Coast to travel west in 1859, accompanying a government-sponsored trip from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains. Compiled from close observation, sketches, and stereoscopic views taken on the expedition, Indians Spear Fishing portrays the West as a pristine, sublime wilderness that seemingly could be found only in the Bible's Book of Genesis. Within a compressed space, Bierstadt draws together barren rock formations, towering waterfalls, spindly trees, crystalline water reflecting rocky outcrops, and a peak that pierces the wispy and moisture-laden clouds, turning to mist below. In the brightly lit foreground near the shore, a boat filled with three Native Americans provides scale and identifies the location as unmistakably that of the West; the boat laden with furs spells the riches of the land.