PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
It was on his second journey west in 1863 with the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow that Bierstadt first beheld Mount Hood (fig. 1). The party traveled up from California into the Pacific Northwest on horseback and then by steamer and rail up the Columbia River from near Mount Hood. According to Patricia Junker, “Mount Hood was an almost continual presence as the two men made their way up the Columbia, and we know from Ludlow that Bierstadt studied it intently, seeing it from different perspectives, from the northeast and the northwest, and in the changing light of different times of day. At Dalles City Bierstadt paid an ‘old Indian interpreter and trapper’ to guide him to a high point southwest of town that offered the most imposing view of the mountain in the rising sun, and there he spent most of a morning making oil studies of the opaline peak. ‘His work upon this mountain was in some respects the best he ever accomplished,’ Ludlow offered, ‘being done with a loving faithfulness hardly called out by Hood’s only rival, the Peak of Shasta’” (Albert Bierstadt: Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, Seattle, Washington, 2011, p. 38).
As is typical of his distinctive aesthetic, Bierstadt presents a heroic vision of the Oregon landscape in Indians on the Columbia River. Suffused with a rosy golden light, the snowcapped, rocky peak of Mount Hood rises proudly above the Columbia River where a group of Indians row their boat across its crystalline waters towards the shore. Emanating tranquility and serenity, this Edenic vision of wilderness demonstrates Bierstadt’s response to the national desire for renewal and a return to peace in the aftermath of the Civil War. However, works such as Indians on the Columbia River additionally attest to Bierstadt’s desire to adapt the European ideal of the sublime – the ability of the natural world to elicit awe and wonder – to an explicitly American landscape. The dramatic geological features he found throughout the West lent themselves well to this endeavor, but this preoccupation deepened during his travels in the Pacific Northwest; for the first time Bierstadt found volcanoes that rivaled those of South America such as Cotopaxi, which had already been famously portrayed on several occassions by Bierstadt’s contemporary, Frederic Edwin Church (fig. 2).
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