Private Collection (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, April 17, 1975, lot 19, illustrated)
J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above
In 1871 Albert Bierstadt headed West for the third time, travelling under radically different circumstances compared to his first foray westward in 1859. During that first trip, as part of the Frederick Lander survey party, he had spent weeks travelling by horseback to Colorado and Wyoming. Twelve years later he and his wife set off by train, accompanied by a servant, and reached their destination of San Francisco in six days. Not only had the landscape of the West changed in the intervening years, thanks to the railroad tracks which made previously remote areas accessible, but Bierstadt's position as an artist had altered dramatically as well. The 1864 exhibition of his colossal The Rocky Mountains at the New York Metropolitan Fair had catapulted Bierstadt to national and international renown, and his new-found fame translated into almost immediate financial dividends. Entranced by the artist's idealized interpretations of a frontier they had never seen, patrons were willing to pay record prices for spectacular canvases which not only confirmed the divine right of Manifest Destiny, but also promised national renewal and a return to peace in the wake of the Civil War.
Bierstadt's canvases further served as a clarion call to the country that the American West was not only worth documenting, but worth preserving. His views of the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierras became the foundation for a nascent conservationist movement which found additional inspiration in the panoramas of the Yellowstone region captured by Thomas Moran's paintbrush and William Henry Jackson's camera. This area, located in Wyoming at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, was "discovered" in 1870 by John Colter, a Lewis and Clark expedition member who had split from the group and was the first to record the area's unique geothermal features. In 1872 a geological survey of the region, accompanied by Moran's paintings and Jackson's large-format photographs, was submitted to Congress and on March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law establishing Yellowstone National Park, the first of its kind in the world.
Albert Bierstadt did not make the trip to Yellowstone until July of 1881, again travelling by train. During his three month stay the artist hunted prolifically, while also executing a number of studies and sketches to be used in the creation of larger studio paintings upon his return. From the number of works which followed, including Old Faithful, we know he was intrigued by the area, and in particular its incredible wildlife and fascinating geysers. As he said in a later newspaper interview: "This is not the first season I have spent about the Rocky Mountains, but it is my first introduction to the geysers of Yellowstone....We encamped near the geysers, and hence the heat of the boiling water warmed the atmosphere about us. The scene when looking from our tents out into the cool moonlight air, with the silvery spray of the geysers spreading out over the landscape, and the cascades falling from the cliffs in the distance, was very beautiful. I have several sketches here which I intend as jogs to my memory..." (The New York Express, October 28, 1881).
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