Lot 29
  • 29

Albert Bierstadt 1830-1902

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Albert Bierstadt
  • Cascading Falls at Sunset
  • signed with artist's monogrammed initials AB, l.l.
  • oil on canvas
  • 24 by 18 in.
  • (60.9 by 45.7 cm)
  • Painted circa 1863 to 1870s.


Private Collection, circa late 1920s
By descent to the present owners

Catalogue Note

In 1863, Albert Bierstadt set out on his second journey through the American West.  His first Western tour was in 1859, when he spent six months on the road to California, chronicling the distinctive terrain of the Rocky Mountains.  The resulting landscapes – sweeping, panoramic views of breathtaking mountains ranges and lush valleys – marked a new direction in Bierstadt’s work and definitively changed the course of his career.  When Bierstadt returned to New York from his first trip in late 1859, he debuted Base of the Rocky Mountains, Laramie Peak (1860, unlocated) at the Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design and one reviewer described it as the “piece de resistance.”  His work allowed Eastern audiences a much-desired window into a then unfamiliar part of the country and promoted the West as a limitless expanse of bountiful, virgin land.  As his reputation grew, his talent for self-promotion developed accordingly, and he deliberately withheld his most important painting created following the first tour, The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), from the National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition and instead sent it to Boston, to ensure its exposure to the widest audience possible.  By the time he embarked on his second tour, he had firmly established himself as the “visual historian” of the West.

Cascading Falls at Sunset, painted following his 1863 trip, is a classic example of Bierstadt’s romantic vision of the West.  By 1864, influential critics such as James Jackson Jarvis had duly acknowledged his position as one the finest landscapists of the day, suggesting that he had surpassed Frederic Church in skill and accomplishment.  Similar to some of the compositions he produced in the Yosemite Valley, the view in Cascading Falls at Sunset features a cascading waterfall, framed by steep mountainsides and distant snow-capped peaks.  The terrain is deliberately wild and uneven, imparting a true sense of adventure and exploration.  Bierstadt’s consummate achievement is evident in his ability to accurately and skillfully render scale.  By inserting the rider (possibly a self-portrait) making his way up the mountain on the right, he establishes the dramatic verticality of the Western landscape.  The explicit spatial relationships allow the viewer to seamlessly enter the composition.  While the painting is smaller in scale than many of the more grandiose productions, the resulting impact is one of drama and grandeur.