Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Property from The Westervelt Company, formerly The Gulf States Paper Corporation
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Seal Rock, California

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Seal Rock, California
signed with conjoined initials 'ABierstadt' (lower left)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
16 x 22 in. (40.6 x 55.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1872.
[With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1975.
G. Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1974, p. 217.
C. Wood, "Art of the American West," The Huntsville Times, 1978, n.p.
N.K. Anderson, et al., Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1990, p. 238, no. 63, illustrated.
T. Robotham, Albert Bierstadt, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1993, pp. 92-93, illustrated.
G.L. Carr, Bierstadt's West, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1997, n.p., pl. 17, illustrated.
Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville Museum of Art, Art of the American West, September 8-November 26, 1978.
Sylacauga, Alabama, Sylacauga Art Museum, February 24-March 24, 1982, on loan.
Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham Museum of Art, and elsewhere, American Masterpieces from the Warner Collection, January 30-March 29, 1987.
South Bend, Indiana, South Bend Art Center, American Masterpieces from the Warner Collection, December 9, 1989-February 4, 1990.
Waco, Texas, Sixth Annual Brazos Forum, America Comes of Age: Emerging Arts and Culture, August 17-October 4, 1990.
Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, and elsewhere, Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, February 8-May 6, 1991, no. 63.
New York, Gerald Peters Gallery, Bierstadt's West, September 11-October 24, 1997.

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Lot Essay

During his travels in the West, Albert Bierstadt spent much of his time exploring the diverse topography of California. As in many of the artist's best works, in the present painting, Seal Rock, California, Bierstadt chose to paint a landscape without a hint of the presence of man: it was the untouched, primeval landscape that interested him most of all. Here, he has brilliantly captured the rugged northern California coast with crystalline light and air against the turbulent surf, embodying the naturalistic scene of California splendor.

Bierstadt and his wife Rosalie arrived in San Francisco in July of 1871 aboard the recently completed transcontinental railroad. This journey was a far cry from the artist's earlier and much lengthier expeditions to the West via wagon trail beginning in 1859. The San Francisco to which the Bierstadts now arrived had been transformed from a prospecting settlement into the most cosmopolitan city on the West Coast, and the couple's stay in California would stretch over the course of two years.

Between 1871 and 1873 Bierstadt traveled throughout California, sketching and painting the unique vistas of the Pacific coast, including the Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite Valley. It was during this tour that he sketched the rocky coast below the historic Cliff House, located at the northwest corner of San Francisco. Built in 1863, this dramatic cliff-side structure became a landmark destination where travelers could stop to dine and gaze with wonder as multitudes of sea lions sunned themselves on the now-famous Seal Rocks, just off the shore below the cliffs. The artist must have been amused by the playful seals and sea lions and awe-struck by the remarkable outcroppings of rocky formations that defined the splendid coastal setting.

Bierstadt's synthesis of the broadly monumental and the finely detailed, places his work among the most successful expressions 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. 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 this 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)

Capturing in marvelous detail the magnificent light and awe-inspiring power of nature, as well as the damp, misty air and rugged shore so characteristic of the San Francisco coast, Bierstadt's depictions of Seal Rocks, as seen in the present example, are among the artist's most famous and beloved West Coast subjects.

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