Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Property of a Private Collector
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Clear Lake, California

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Clear Lake, California
signed with conjoined initials 'ABierstadt' (lower right)--signed again (on the reverse)
oil on board
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 60.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1881.
The artist.
(Probably) Theodore F. Hicks, brother-in-law of the above, circa 1895.
Kraushaar Galleries, New York, 1937.
Private collection, Cleveland, Ohio.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1976.

Lot Essay

Albert Bierstadt's majestic depictions of the American West are the artist's highest regarded works and rank among the most triumphant accomplishments in nineteenth-century American art. Beginning in 1859, Bierstadt made multiple journeys from the East Coast to the far reaches of the Western frontier in search of a pure landscape untouched by human presence. While the artist traveled West well after the first explorers, his art offered “visual confirmation of the alpine peaks, enormous trees, and stunning valleys they had described with all the exclamation words would allow.” (N.K. Anderson, Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, New York, 1991, p. 79) For American collectors of his time, Bierstadt's works came to typify the wilderness experience, and as summarized by Gerald Carr, “Bierstadt was among the most energetic, industrious, and internationally honored American artists of the nineteenth century.” (American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, New York, 1987, p. 284)

Bierstadt visited as far as California for the first time in 1863, when he spent a month in Yosemite Valley before returning to his New York studio. Over the next several decades, he returned to the state as a source of considerable artistic inspiration, creating some of his most monumental and majestic canvases; however, it may not have been until the summer of 1880 in which he made his way to Clear Lake. Located North of Napa County, it is the largest freshwater lake in California and may be the oldest natural lake in North America. It was, and still is today, a popular fishing destination known for its abundance of bass.

Clear Lake, painted circa 1881, was inspired by his visit to this region and depicts the crystalline surface of the lake bathed in a warm sunlit glow. The scene is framed by autumnal trees, likely a feat of artistic license to add more vibrant color to his composition. A patch of meadow, painted in warm tones of green and yellow and dotted with granite boulders emerging from the ground, is illuminated by the high, late afternoon sun. The mountains, with their rocky facades alternately in light and shadow, glimmer in the distance.

Clear Lake is evocative of Bierstadt’s landscapes on a monumental scale, which immerse the viewer into the pristine, magnificent landscape. His synthesis of the wide open expanses and the finely detailed, almost intimate passages of landscape places his work among the most successful expressions of the many paradoxes of nature. This expression, through Bierstadt's attention to detail and evocation of light, harmoniously brings together the spiritual and natural world. Like no artist before him, Bierstadt established himself as the pre-eminent painter with both the technique and the talent to convey the powerful visual impact of the Western landscape, to capture the mammoth scale of the open spaces and to begin to interpret this new American landscape in a manner equal to its majesty and grandeur.

In summarizing Bierstadt's achievement, Gordon Hendricks wrote that "his successes envelop us with the beauty of nature, its sunlight, its greenness, its mists, its subtle shades, its marvelous freshness. All of these Bierstadt felt deeply. Often he was able, with the struggle that every artist knows, to put his feelings on canvas. When he succeeded in what he was trying to do--to pass along some of his own passion for the wildness and beauty of the new West--he was as good as any landscapist in the history of American art." (Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1973, p. 10)

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