Lot 83
  • 83

Albert Bierstadt 1830 - 1902

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Albert Bierstadt
  • Sunset in California, Yosemite
  • signed ABierstadt (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 28 1/2 by 22 inches
  • (72.4 by 55.9 cm)


Mr. and Mrs. Russell Ramsey
Kennedy Galleries, New York
James Fowler, Nashville, Tennessee
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Hammer Galleries, New York
Private Collection, 1976 (acquired from the above; sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 4, 2002, lot 140, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Art Club, n.d. 
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Cowboys, Buffaloes and Indians, June-July 1974, no. 9


The Kennedy Quarterly, vol. XI, no. IV, March 1972, p. 199, illustrated fig. 151 (as View in Yosemite)


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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

While traveling throughout the American West in 1863, Albert Bierstadt wrote to his friend John Hay to describe his arrival into the Yosemite Valley: “We are now here in the garden of Eden as I call it.  The most magnificent place I was ever in” (quoted in Nancy Anderson and Linda Ferber, Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 79). Although other artists had preceded him in the West, Bierstadt was unsurpassed in his ability to fully capture the grandeur of this landscape and to record the many moods of its climate and terrain. Based on copious sketches executed by the artist during his trips to the West, Sunset in California, Yosemite, captures not only the well-known dramatic vistas of the Valley, but also the silent, contemplative qualities of its surrounding territories.

Bierstadt made his first trip westward in 1859, when he accompanied Colonel Frederick Lander on a government expedition to plot a route from Fort Laramie, Wyoming to the Pacific Ocean. It was on this trip that the artist was introduced to this dramatic, unspoiled landscape, which he would continue to paint for the rest of his life. In the present work, Bierstadt infuses the scene with a hazy, atmospheric quality of light that emanates stillness and tranquility. His inclusion of the deer resting in the cast shadow of senescent tree further emphasizes the quietude of the Valley, not yet spoiled by the presence of humans or influx of industry. 

Following two unsuccessful attempts to return west in 1860 and 1862, in 1863 Bierstadt traveled to the Yosemite Valley with Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a New York writer who documented the journey, as well as the artists Enoch Wood Perry and Virgil Williams. Ludlow recorded the group’s daily activities in detail, and his reports were subsequently published in the New York Evening Post.  “Sitting in their divine workshop,” he noted, “by a little after sunrise our artists began labor in that only method which can ever make a true painter or living landscape, color-studies on the spot; and though I am not here to speak of their 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” (quoted in Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1974, p. 132). In a letter published in the Post in October 1863, Ludlow hinted at what might be expected from Bierstadt’s brush: “Bierstadt, . . . after years spent in making alpine color-studies, asserts that no where in Switzerland, nor indeed throughout all Europe, is there scenery whose grandeur can for one moment be held comparable with that of the Sierra Nevada in the Yosemite district” (Anderson and Ferber, p. 85).

Bierstadt returned to New York at the end of 1863 and by the following January had filled his studio with photographs, sketches, and studies collected during his western journey.  The artist referred to these resources regularly as he elaborated upon the views he had sketched, expanding them into large, panoramic paintings.  Yosemite was a subject Bierstadt frequently returned to throughout his career, and works such as Sunset in California, Yosemite demonstrate Bierstadt’s affinity for this earthly “garden of Eden.”

The artist’s idealized interpretations of the West were in keeping with the image of the frontier held by many who would never travel there and his paintings were highly sought-after by patrons willing to pay record prices for his spectacular canvases.  Edgar Preston 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).  According to Robert Hughes, “The West made America unique among nations, and nobody was painting big panoramas of it.  Other artists with Luminist affiliations…had all been on painting expeditions west of the Missouri, but their paintings tended to be fairly small, without the heroics of Church–and Church’s territory was the Hudson Valley and South America. They did not express the idea of a providential mission into the wilderness that was at the heart of Manifest Destiny.  Bierstadt set out to do so” (American Visions, New York, 1997, p. 194). 

The widespread interest in Bierstadt’s western landscapes also arose from patriotic factors relating to the end of the Civil War. The War left many Americans distressed and questioning their traditional values. The West seemed to afford a reconnection with the peaceful antebellum era and an opportunity for renewal not unlike the promise of America to the first generation of settlers. Bierstadt’s views of the Western territories provided an escape from the harsh realities of the recent national conflict and the ensuing bitterness of reconstruction. In Sunset in California, Yosemite, Bierstadt’s depiction of the setting sun in this majestic American frontier represents the hope for a new era of peace in the post-Civil War nation.