Lot 95
  • 95

* Albert Bierstadt 1830-1902

bidding is closed


  • Albert Bierstadt
  • Sunset in California (California Scenery, Sunset View)
  • signed with the artist's initials AB and dated '64, l.r.; also signed Bierstadt twice and bearing an old label inscribed California Scenery/Sunset View/Painted by A. Bierstadt/Possessor-Eliza Bierstadt/Studio Building 51 Tenth St. New York on the reverse
  • oil on board
  • 12 by 18 in.
  • (30.5 by 45.7 cm)


Miss Eliza Bierstadt (the artist's sister)
Adolf Edward Rose, Niagara Falls, New York, circa 1891
Rudolph "Viedt" Rose (his son), Niagara Falls, New York, 1900
Mrs. Rudolph Rose (Joyce L. Grant), Niagara Falls, New York, 1928
By descent to the present owner (her daughter), 1939


Boston, Massachusetts, Childs Gallery, November 1868
San Francisco, California, Snow & Roos Art Gallery, August 1869
(possibly) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Centennial Exhibition, Prang & Co. booth
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art (on loan)


Boston Transcript, November 30, 1868
The Aldine Press, June 1869, p. 51
San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 1869
San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser, August 14, 1869
The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, August 20, 1869
Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, 1870
Gordon Hendricks, "The First Three Western Journeys of Albert Bierstadt," The Art Bulletin, September 1954, no. 78, pp. 347, 357
Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, pp. 186, 187, 268, 274
Ralph Blumenthal, "Softly Into the Sunset, But Which Sunset?" The New York Times, April 2, 2003, p. E8, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1864 following Albert Bierstadt’s first trip to Yosemite Valley, Sunset in California 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 1868 Louis Prang published a chromolithograph of Sunset in California, which he sold under the title Sunset (California Scenery) (figure 1).  According to Helena E. Wright, “Bierstadt was still abroad in the fall of 1868 when his only known American chromolithograph appeared.  It seems likely that his brother Edward oversaw its publication, a task simplified by the fact that the painting was owned by their sister Eliza.  … Louis Prang lithographed the works of many artists as part of an ambitious program to provide American chromolithographs of major American paintings.  He intended that every American artist of note should be represented in his ‘Gallery of American Painters’ by at least one picture” (Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1990, p. 274). 

Technological advances in the printing process allowed for better reproductions and the proliferation of prints served to widen and enhance the reputations of many of America’s best known artists.  Ms. Wright notes, “The perfection of printed color in the chromolithograph by mid-century promised remarkable progress in the effort to reproduce paintings.  The alternatives of line or color as reproductive choices emerged with the coming of the chromo, and some artists such as Bierstadt and Frederic Church produced both line engravings and chromolithographs after their most famous works.  The chromolithograph, however, never achieved the high level of respectability and connoisseurship that the steel engraving had connoted for generations.

“Before the 1860s, American artists who reproduced their paintings in color generally chose European lithographers.  Louis Prang (1824-1909), who in 1868 published the chromo of Bierstadt’s Sunset: California Scenery, wanted to Americanize the art of reproducing oil paintings.  In the years immediately following the Civil War, Prang and other American lithographers worked to improve the quality of prints offered in ‘imitation’ of oil painting.  …

“When Bierstadt first elected to use the medium, chromolithography enjoyed the praise that often accompanies a technical improvement.  The moralizing middle-class press applauded the way that accessible, uplifting pictures could reinforce cultural values.  Indeed, Bierstadt’s Sunset chromo was specifically recommended for inexpensive edification by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe in American Woman’s Home (1869): ‘The educating influence of these works of art can hardly be over-estimated.  … Children are constantly trained to correctness of taste and refinement of thought, and stimulated—sometimes to efforts at artistic imitation, always to the eager and intelligent inquiry about the scenes, the places, the incidents represented.’

“The chromo’s very success spelled its downfall, however.  By so deliberately imitating painting, chromos sometimes fooled the eye.  When Prang’s chromo was exhibited alongside Bierstadt’s painting of Sunset in California, gallery visitors sometimes could not distinguish between the two.  This confusion, along with the proliferation of poorer-quality examples, let to a rather rapid disillusionment with the process.  Increasingly, critics called chromos cheap, superficial copies that detracted from all the good that art was said to effect.  Ironically, almost as soon as technical achievements permitted the lithograph to replicate oil paintings successfully, critics rejected the process.  The fine-art chromolithograph, reproducing the work of critically received artists, died out almost at birth.  Although Louis Prang continued to publish his excellent series of reproductions after some American artists into the 1890s, by the early 1870s Bierstadt and others had backed away from the process because of its increasingly negative reception” (Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, pp. 268-69).

Please note: there was a 1 3/4  by 8 inch area of loss in the foreground that was repainted by a conservator replicating the chromolithograph in the Library of Congress.