Two letters between Albert Bierstadt and A.C. Woodward discussing the painting accompany the lot.
California Oaks is one of many impressive works that resulted from Albert Bierstadt's trips to California in the 1860s and 1870s. In this work, Bierstadt has focused on the 'Big Trees' of California, one of the many fascinating traits that had made America's west coast legendary since mid-century.
Ironically, "Bierstadt saw neither the Rockies nor California until well after a full corps of writers, journalists, surveyors, and forty-niners had whetted the appetites of both Europeans and Americans for visual confirmation of the alpine peaks, enormous trees, and stunning valleys they had described with all the exclamation words would allow. Ironically, Bierstadt's 'late' arrival was perfectly timed, for it allowed him to capitalize on the nation's eagerness to finally see what such accomplished writers as Washington Irving, Richard Henry Dana, Francis Parkman, John C. Frmont, and Bayard Taylor had already described in travel books, histories, survey reports, and countless newspaper columns. " (N. Anderson, Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, New York, 1990, p. 70)
The lush landscape of the west coast was absolutely fascinating to Bierstadt's east coast audience. The nineteenth century descriptions of the west coast that appeared in the newspapers and magazines seemed unbelievable to those who had not visited the region. A series of photographs that were exhibited in New York in 1863 both whetted America's appetite for artifacts of the west coast and confirmed that "Yosemite was not an exaggeration and that the Mariposa redwoods did, in fact, dwarf every other living thing." (Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, p. 79)
In California Oaks, most likely executed in the 1870s or 1880s, Bierstadt has transcribed all of the glorious elements that he witnessed and that were made famous in contemporary descriptions, such as a review in The New York Post (describing a group of photographs of the California) "The views of lofty mountains, of gigantic trees, of falls of water which seem to descend from heights in the heavens and break into mists before reaching the ground, are indescribably unique and beautiful. Nothing in the way of landscape can be more impressive or picturesque." (Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, p. 79)