* Albert Bierstadt 1830-1902
- Albert Bierstadt
- El Capitan, Yosemite
- signed ABierstadt and dated '64, l.l.
- oil on canvas
- 18 by 24 in.
- (45.7 by 61 cm)
By descent to the present owners
Painted in 1864 following Albert Bierstadt’s first trip to Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Yosemite is a luminous example of the atmospheric landscapes that earned Bierstadt his reputation as one of America’s most distinguished 19th Century artists. Inspired by the spectacular and unspoiled wilderness he encountered in the West, Bierstadt set out to record the landscape for posterity, focusing on the natural wonders of the largely unexplored and undocumented territories of Yosemite, the High Sierras and Yellowstone. He was among the first American painters to capture the grandeur and natural splendor of the region and to record the many atmospheric moods of its climate and terrain.
In April 1863, Bierstadt embarked on an overland trip west accompanied by Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a New York writer who documented their journey. Ludlow’s reports were subsequently published in a number of periodicals including the New York Evening Post and the Atlantic Monthly. The party, including fellow artists Enoch Wood Perry and Virgil Williams who joined them from San Francisco, finally reached Yosemite in July. Though Bierstadt’s initial response is not documented, Ludlow wrote of the first view into the valley from Inspiration Point, “That name [Inspiration Point] had appeared pedantic, but we found it only the spontaneous expression of our own feelings on the spot. We did not so much seem to be seeing from that crag of vision a new scene on the old familiar globe, as a new heaven and a new earth into which the creative spirit had just been breathed, I hesitate now, as I did then, at the attempt to give my vision utterance. Never were words so beggard for an abridged translation of any Scripture of Nature” (Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, p. 81). The spiritual presence Bierstadt perceived in Yosemite's valleys and mountains characterized the sublime depictions of the western panorama he produced thereafter.
Bierstadt spent the next month and a half in Yosemite Valley, passing each day sketching the surrounding scenery. Ludlow recorded the artists’ activities, noting that they were up at dawn, and set to work shortly thereafter. “Sitting in their divine workshop, by a little after sunrise our artists began labor in that only method which can ever make a true painter or a living landscape, color-studies on the spot; and though I am not here to speak of the results, I will assert that during their seven weeks’ camp in the Valley they learned more and gained greater material for future triumphs than they had gotten in all their lives before at the feet of the greatest masters. . . . At evening, when the artists returned, half an hour was passed in a ‘private view’ of their day’s studies” (Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1974, p. 132).
Bierstadt returned to New York at the end of the year and by January of 1864 the sketches and objects he collected during the trip were on display in his studio. Bierstadt’s paintings were highly sought after by Eastern patrons eager for a first-hand account of the distant frontier and he referred to these resources regularly as he elaborated upon the views he had sketched, expanding them into fully developed paintings, such as El Capitan, Yosemite. Edgar P. Richardson commented, “Bierstadt was one--and one of the best--of those who discovered the grandeur of the American West and made our nation aware of it” (Painting in America, New York, 1956, p. 230).