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Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Kings River Canyon, California

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Kings River Canyon, California
signed 'ABierstadt' lower right--signed again and inscribed with title on an original label affixed to the reverse
oil on canvas stretched over panel
20 x 28½in. (50.8 x 72.4cm.)
Private Collection, London, England, since 1890
By descent in the family to the present owner

Lot Essay

Kings River Canyon, California is a brilliant example of the pictures produced by Albert Bierstadt after a series of trips to the Yosemite Valley. In 1859 Albert Bierstadt made his first trip to the American West with Colonel Frederick Lander's U.S. Government Expedition. Travelling along the Platte River to the Wind River Mountains, the artist first witnessed the grandeur and beauty of the unspoiled western landscape. However, it was Bierstadt's 1863 journey overland to California which provided him the pictorial material used to create some of the artist's most successful works.

Accompanied by Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a prominent figure in the New York literary circles, Bierstadt travelled along the southern route arriving in San Francisco in July. After several days in the city, Bierstadt and Ludlow, also joined by Enoch Wood Perry and Virgil Williams, ventured to Yosemite via the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias. Camping and sketching for seven weeks, Bierstadt gathered ample material to complete several major oil paintings during the next eight years in New York. These include Looking Down Yosemite Valley and Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie. These works along with The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak which was sold for $25,000 in 1865 brought the artist wide acclaim and numerous laudatory reviews. By late 1869, Bierstadt had reached the height of his fame.

After travelling west again along the Pacific Coast betwen 1871 and 1872, Bierstadt made a second journey to Yosemite Valley. Having spent the summer months touring the High Sierra, the artist joined Clarence King in the fall of 1872 to explore the South Sierra. Leading the U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel into Kings River Canyon, Clarence King introduced Bierstadt to a very remote region which the geologists were just beginnning to map and measure on this trip. This discovery of valleys and canyons far off the tourist trails provided Bierstadt a new, raw edge with which to imbue his western landscapes.

Kings River Canyon, California was most likely executed during the winter months of 1873 and 74 from sketches made during Bierstadt's travels through the South Sierra. A golden mist brings to this untraversed terrain a majesty and purity lending the overall composition the feeling of a Garden of Eden. A family of deer rests peacefully along the water's edge protected by the massive trees and canyon walls. An almost divine light prevades the canvas casting reflections on the still, clear body of water. The intricately detailed foliage of the immediate foreground and of the towering trees carries the viewer's eye to a more hazy and suggestive distance of unending natural beauty.

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