Expertly repaired closed tear, not affecting image.
Bent's Fort was constructed in 1833 by Bent, St. Vrain & Company, the largest fur trading and commercial firm in the Southwest. The company developed a complex business network as part of the Santa Fe trade, selling blankets from New Mexico and buffalo robes from the Plains, driving Mexican sheep through to Missouri, trading in horses and mules, and trading goods to Indians. Just on the American side of the then boundary with Mexico, it was in a perfect location to serve as a trade nexus. At the same time it served as a base for U.S. government exploring and military expeditions such as those of Kearny, Dodge, Fremont, and Abert. With the end of the Mexican-American War and the American annexation of New Mexico, the fort lost its strategic significance, and the proprietors were struck a serious blow when the senior partner, Charles Bent, the provisional American governor of New Mexico, was murdered in Taos in 1847. In 1849 his brother, William Bent, offered to sell the fort to the United States, but, perceiving the government's very low counter-offer as an insult, he set fire to his stores of gun powder, destroying many of the buildings, and abandoned the fort.
Bent's Fort has since been reconstructed on its original foundations by the National Park Service and designated a National Historic Site.
Very few images of Bent's Fort survive, despite its key role in the Santa Fe and fur trades at their height. A detailed plan and view of the fort in James W. Abert's report of his 1845 western expedition are the best known depictions of the fort, and these, along with the archeological evidence, provided the basis for the Park Service reconstruction.
It has been suggested that the monogram in the lower corner of this picture is that of John Frederick Kensett, a leading painter of the Hudson River School and an artist skilled in small pencil drawings, learned in his career as an engraver. Kensett made on-the-spot sketches of the Fort during his 1870 trip to Colorado Territory with fellow Hudson River School painters Worthington Whittredge and Sanford Robinson Gifford. Only four of the pencil sketches absolutely identifiable as by Kensett survive from this Colorado trip, and so a firm attribution of the present is difficult.
Unrecorded in the Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, unknown to the archivist at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, and unpublished. One of the few depictions of a major historic landmark of the West, the drawing is a significant addition to the art history of Colorado.
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