Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Feature from June 11 Auction Lot 184

Albert Bierstadt
Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie
paper size: 31 1/2 x 18 inches
framed size 41 x 27 1/2 inches
London: Thomas McLean, 1869
  Bierstadt was among the most successful 19th-century artists who worked to capture America's hopes for future greatness in the untamed expanses of the West, creating images of grandeur which could not help but add to America's love of the mythic frontier and the spirit of adventure and discovery that it represented.  To achieve his glorious compositions, Bierstadt combined both imaginary and actual elements to create scenes that were based as much in reality as in the ideal.   In educating the American public about the West, Bierstadt depicted a landscape which could rival any in Europe in magnificence, while conveying a distinctly American pioneer spirit that embodied the compelling notion of Manifest Destiny.

Born in Germany in 1830, Bierstadt came to the U.S. in 1832.  He spent his childhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  At the age of 23 he returned to Germany to study at the Academy in Dusseldorf.  Afterward he painted with Worthington Whittredge in Rome, returning to the U.S. in 1857.  The next year Bierstadt headed west with Colonel Lander's surveying expedition to map an overland route from St. Louis to the Pacific.  Bierstadt left the party to sketch the Wind River and Shoshone country on his own.  In 1863 he made another western trip with Fitzhugh Ludlow, who recorded the journey in The Heart of the Continent (1870).  The success of the paintings inspired by that experience placed Bierstadt in competition with Frederic Church as America's most successful painter of masterpiece landscapes, and together the two became the first American artists to rival their European colleagues.

Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie is a chromolithograph after one of Bierstadt’s most celebrated paintings, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.  Contemporary critics described the image in this way: “A powerful light is streaking over the rocky gates of the mountain on the left, and radiating down on the lake in the foreground, which it seems to invest with enchantment.  Indeed, the light here is handled with such exquisite skill, and is so singularly pure and effective, that many of the spectators fancy it produced by some artificial means behind the canvas.”  Another wrote: “As a work of art, the picture is almost universally pronounced the best production of American genius.”  The chromolithograph was issued in the fall of 1869 by Thomas McLean of London and distributed in both the United States and Europe, answering to the spreading fascination for Bierstadt’s splendid views of majestic American scenery.

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