Montana Historical Society

Big Sky. Big Land. Big History.

Art in the Old Law Library

"The Bitter Root" by Ralph E. DeCamp The Bitter Root
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1911, 42" x 83"

Much of the Capitol’s artwork focuses on noteworthy events and individuals from Montana’s history. Artist Ralph DeCamp, on the other hand, chose Montana’s natural beauty to serve as the subject, not just background, of his work. The Bitterroot (now spelled as one word) is a tributary of the Clark Fork River in the southwest corner of the state. Called St. Mary’s River by early Jesuit missionaries, an English translation of the Salish term spetlum (“Place of the bitterroot”) gave the river its permanent name. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"The Gallatin" by Ralph E. DeCamp The Gallatin
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1912, 42" x 83"

The Gallatin refers to the area of southern Montana immediately north of Yellowstone National Park through which the Gallatin River (pictured) flows. Once again, DeCamp chose a spot from which one sees water, mountains, and big sky at the same time. The river in this case is centered, flowing gently toward the viewer. Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition named the Gallatin River—one of the three forks of the Missouri—in honor of Albert Gallatin, then Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"Gates of the Mountains" by Ralph E. DeCamp Gates of the Mountains
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1911, 42" x 83"

DeCamp reduces the bright colors used by the Pedrettis in their rendition of the same general area in order to achieve a softer, more autumnal look. The gates-like effect of the geological formation (so poetically named by Meriwether Lewis in 1805) is difficult to capture in photographs or paintings. DeCamp sought to overcome the difficulty through his composition (the sidelong view of the Missouri River issuing from the narrow space between the cliffs) and by manipulating the light and tone (distinguishing subtly, but convincingly, between the opposing cliffs). (Photo by Don Beatty)

"Last Chance" by Ralph E. DeCamp Last Chance
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1911, 42" x 83"

One of only two Law Library landscapes that depict the use of the land for industrial purposes, Last Chance returns the Helena area to its pre-urban setting when placer miners originally looked for gold in the Helena Valley. For all his emphasis on the geographical context, most notably Mount Helena towering in the distance, DeCamp does not skimp on practical details. The miner closest to the viewer expertly directs the full force of a hydraulic stream as his cohorts work in the background. The predominance of brown tones differentiates this painting from the others in the Law Library, altering its decorative effect. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"St. Ignacius (Indian Country)" by Ralph E. DeCamp St. Ignatius (Indian Country)
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1911, 42" x 83"

Although the mission itself is not visible in the painting, the title refers to the Jesuit mission of St. Ignatius, founded in the foothills of the Mission Mountains in 1854. The appellation “Indian Country” refers to the fact that St. Ignatius was then—and continues to be—part of the Flathead Reservation, home to the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille. DeCamp depicts a scene reminiscent of the pre-encounter period, before the influx of white settlers. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"Lake McDermott" by Ralph E. DeCamp Lake McDermott
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1912, 42" x 83"

A small body of water that feeds larger Lake Sherburne, Lake McDermott (now known as Swiftcurrent Lake) is located near the Grinnell Glacier in the eastern part of Glacier National Park. An acclaimed tourist destination by 1912, this portion of the northern Rocky Mountains became a national park in 1910. In this painting, DeCamp uses snow to highlight the surrounding mountains and draw attention to the geophysical features of glaciation. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"Aboce Timberline" by Ralph E. DeCamp Above Timberline
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1928, 42" x 83"

Above Timberline is the only one of DeCamp’s ten murals that does not allude to a specific site in its title. The scene is thought to be set in the Granite Range near the northeastern part of Yellowstone National Park. Trees are noticeably absent, and the craggy peaks are expressive of a colder, loftier elevation. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"The Rosebud River" by Ralph E. DeCamp The Rosebud River
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1928, 42" x 83"

The most turbulent of DeCamp’s water scenes, The Rosebud River perhaps succeeds best in expressing the stark, solitary beauty, and potential violence of Montana’s wilderness. The exact site is thought to be just above East Rosebud Lake, west of Red Lodge. Even today, the spot is difficult to access, further confirming the personal quest each site represented to DeCamp. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"Holter Dam" by Ralph E. DeCamp Holter Dam
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1928, 42" x 83"

By choosing a majestic panoramic view and situating the viewer on a high vantage point overlooking the dam in the distance, DeCamp pays homage to the beauty of the landscape while at the same time carefully depicting details of what was, at the time, one of the finest hydroelectric plants in the country. Holter Dam is located on the Missouri River near Wolf Creek, about forty miles north of Helena, and remains in use. (Photo by Don Beatty)

"The Flathead" by Ralph E. DeCamp The Flathead
Ralph E. DeCamp, oil on canvas, 1928, 42" x 83"

Here Decamp depicts Flathead Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country. The artist indicates human habitation through the presence of Indian tepees in the right foreground, but, like many of DeCamp’s other pieces for the Capitol, Montana’s natural beauty is the painting’s main focus. The large evergreen on the right not only serves as a visual reminder of the state’s flora, but functions compositionally as a framing device within the picture. (Photo by Don Beatty)

Back to the Capitol Art page.