Famed for his majestic landscapes of the West, Albert Bierstadt creates in his painting Golden Light of California one of his most luminous works. Painted from sketches from his trips to California in the 1860s and 70s, this composition depicts an expansive meadow populated by a herd of deer. The light is rich and vivid, emphasizing Bierstadt's vision of California as an untouched, American Eden.
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. Anderson, Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, 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."
From his early successes in 1859 following his first trip west, "Bierstadt rode the crest of success for the next decade. He made two additional western journeys, one in 1863, the other from 1871 to 1873. In the interval between, he married Rosalie Ludlow, built Malkasten, a magnificent mansion overlooking the river at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, and undertook a two-year tour of Europe, where he and his wife mingled with the crhme de la crhme of British and continental society. At the same time, he was painting spectacular pictures of western scenery, which were widely exhibited in the United States and abroad and which commanded the highest prices in American art at the time." Bierstadt's position was secure as the foremost painter of the west, and "as the foremost competitor of Frederic E. Church in the field of monumental New World landscapes." (J. K. Howat, American Paradise, The World of the Hudson River School, New York, 1987, p. 284).
Among these achievements is Golden Light of California, which stands out in Bierstadt's ouevre for the understated monumentality of the scene; choosing a deep, forested vista, possibly in Yosemite valley, the artist elevates the landscape to grandeur in part with the sheer scale of the canvas, nearly five feet in width. In contrast to his mountain scenery, Golden Light of California offers an alternative vision of a pristine, magnificent landscape depicting a quiet meadow in autumn light.