This expansive scene looks toward Mount Hood, one of the iconic landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, used to adorn tourist flyers advertising the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the twentieth century. Although it foreshadows such promotional imagery, and recalls Frederick Billings’ railroading interests, this landscape does not feature the railroad in any form. Instead, like Thomas Cole’s view of Niagara hanging nearby in the Mansion, it presents a pristine wilderness before the arrival of development and change. The wisps of smoke which dot the landscape in this painting are rising from Native American encampments, not railroad engines.

Keith was an uncertain, or possibly an inattentive, technician of paints. His finished canvas paintings dried irregularly, resulting in the “alligator” cracking of the painted surface which is characteristically evident here.

Keith was born in Scotland, and began his American career working for Harper’s Magazine as an engraver. In 1859 he moved to California, and became a painter of western landscapes. He was subsequently employed by the Northern Pacific Railroad to paint the picturesque scenes along its route. Keith was accompanied on at least one western expedition by the photographer Carleton Watkins, whose mammoth landscape photos were also among the Billings family’s possessions.


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