Lot 79
  • 79

Albert Bierstadt 1830 - 1902

400,000 - 600,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Albert Bierstadt
  • Deer in a Clearing, Yosemite
  • signed ABierstadt, l.l.
  • oil on canvas
  • 20 by 27 1/2 in.
  • (50.8 by 69.8 cm)


Sale: Sotheby's, New York, June 2, 1983, lot 83, illustrated
Private Collection, 1983


Good condition, lined; under UV: very fine lines of inpainted craqulure at center (fairly minor), a small area of retouching at upper center edge to address frame abrasion.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

When Albert Bierstadt first debuted his dramatic views of the American West in the late 1850's, he was immediately embraced by a public eager to experience the faraway splendor and monumental scale of the wilderness west of the Mississippi. Bierstadt was part of the landscape tradition established by artists such as Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, and he was a contemporary of Frederic Church, whose paintings captured the sublime romance of the South American tropics.


 Both Church and Bierstadt were born showmen who understood the importance of dramatic presentation when it came to the unveiling of their large-scale compositions.  Eschewing traditional and communal exhibition venues, they instead exhibited their "Great Pictures" in private showcases and sent their opuses on tours which they promoted using paid advertising and press coverage. Revenue earned from ticket and print sales only added to the record-breaking prices the artists eventually fetched for their canvases.  In fact, it was Bierstadt's exceptional success with his Yosemite views which inspired Thomas Moran in 1871 to attempt the same large scale compositions of the Yellowstone region.  Moran's Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872 (Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.) has been described as an effort to "both stake his claim to the subject and to challenge Bierstadt's preeminence as America's painter of the West." (American Paintings in the Brooklyn Museum Volume II, New York, 2006, p. 799)  In the meantime, Bierstadt continued to capitalize on his considerable popularity.  Securing commissions both at home and abroad he used sketches from his earlier travels to execute now familiar views of Yosemite, the Sierras and Rocky Mountains but on smaller, more easily-displayed canvases .


Bierstadt first descended into the Yosemite Valley on August 3rd 1863, and was instantly enchanted by the vista which lay before him. "We are now here in the Garden of Eden I call it.  The most magnificent place I was ever in, and I employ every moment painting from nature" ( as quoted in Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1991, p. 178). This statement is made all the more poignant by the fact that it was written barely a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, while the East Coast was embroiled in the bloodiest and most turbulent period in its history.  Bierstadt inherently understood that Americans at this time needed not only to believe in the divine right of their Manifest Destiny, but that this inevitable expansion westward would also bring an opportunity for rebirth after the horrors of a war which threatened to divide a nation.  


Deer in a Clearing, Yosemite is a representation of this promise delivered.  The viewer is placed in the shadowy darkness of the foreground at a slightly elevated vantage point looking towards the luminous sunset which infuses the middle and background of the painting with a healing, soothing light.  The California oaks at left and right bend softly towards the center, creating a cathedral-like arch which urges the viewer to pass underneath, as if on a pilgrimage towards divine salvation.  The deer at lower left reinforce the  grand scale (further heightened by the glimpse of the vertiginous mountain face at upper right), and provide a subtle reminder that the artist has consciously omitted any evidence of human life.  For Bierstadt, this idealized valley was the perfect setting for the Eden he sought to conjure, a scene veritably glowing with hope for an American resurrection.  In the words of Fritz Ludlow, a journalist and Bierstadt's travelling companion in 1863, the Yosemite Valley at sunset opened "into a field of perfect light, misty by its own excess - into an unspeakable effusion of glory created from the phoenix-pile of the dying sun." (as quoted in Robert Hughes, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, New York, 1997, page 196).