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    Description

    Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902)
    Hetch Hetchy Falls, California
    Oil on paper laid on board
    21-1/2 x 13-5/8 inches (54.6 x 34.6 cm) (sight)
    Signed lower left: ABierstadt

    PROVENANCE:
    Schindler's Antique Shop, Charleston, South Carolina, 1962;
    Kennedy Galleries, New York;
    Frank Deming, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, acquired from the above, circa 1965;
    By descent to the present owner, circa 2004.

    Albert Bierstadt's paintings of the untamed American West are among the most significant historical and artistic accomplishments of the nineteenth century. While other artists had made expeditions westward as early as the 1830s, Bierstadt was supreme in his ability to convey the grandeur of this unexplored region to the American public. The artist's depictions of the sublime and monumental through the application of fine brushwork and detail, as well as his representation of grand scale from the perspective of the awed viewer, place his work among the most successful early artistic expressions of the American landscape.

    Bierstadt visited the West as early as 1859 with an expedition for the U.S. Government. However, it was his 1863 journey overland to California which provided him the pictorial material used to create some of his most highly acclaimed works. Accompanied by Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a prominent figure in New York literary circles, Bierstadt arrived in San Francisco in July. After several days in the city, they were joined by artists Enoch Wood Perry and Virgil Williams, and the group ventured to Yosemite. Camping and sketching for seven weeks, Bierstadt gathered ample material to complete several major oil paintings during the next eight years in New York.

    In 1871 Bierstadt and his wife embarked aboard the recently completed transcontinental railroad on the artist's second trip to the West. Immediately upon arrival in California, he set out to the High Sierras to execute an additional series of sketches for his masterwork Donner Lake from the Summit (1873, The New York Historical Society, New York). After returning to New York, Bierstadt would continue many times to voyage west. In the fall of 1872, the artist had the opportunity to accompany a U.S. geological survey into the very remote terrain of Kings River Canyon in the South Sierra. Previously unchartered, this area featured magnificent summits and canyons that fueled Bierstadt's fascination with the western territory.

    The following year, Bierstadt set off to explore the Hetch Hetchy Canyon, a remote part of Yosemite that was still undiscovered by tourists. Captivated, he described the area in one of the many letters he sent back east for publication in The Crayon: "...a writing lover of nature and Art could not wish for a better subject. I am delighted with the scenery...when we look up and measure the mighty perpendicular cliffs that rise hundreds of feet aloft, all capped with snow, we then realize that we are among a different class of mountains; and especially when we see the antelope stop to look at us, and still more the Indian, his pursuer, who often stands dismayed to see a white man sketching alone in the midst of his hunting grounds." (as quoted in G. Hendricks, "The First Three Western Journeys of Albert Bierstadt," The Art Bulletin, September 1964, p. 337)

    Critics as well as the public found immediate appeal in Bierstadt's impressive compositions such as Hetch Hetchy Falls. These remarkable scenes provided for Easterners a novel view of the West, which was undergoing rapid exploration and was the topic of considerable interest. Audiences were stunned and delighted by Bierstadt's depictions of his travels. Notes American art scholar Linda Ferber, "Bierstadt effectively appropriated the American West, tapping public curiosity and excitement about these remote national territories. This interest was fueled, even during the apprehensive years of the Civil War, by the powerful idea of Manifest Destiny. The prevalent belief that Americans were divinely ordained masters of the continent lent special significance to Bierstadt's choice of subjects." ("Albert Bierstadt: The History of a Reputation," Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, p. 25)

    During the late nineteenth century, Hetch Hetchy became renowned for its natural beauty. Hidden in what is now Yosemite National Park's peaceful northwest corner, the valley boasts two of North America's tallest waterfalls, which plummet spectacularly over thousand-foot granite cliffs. For thousands of years before the arrival of settlers, the valley was inhabited by Native Americans, and its name likely derived from the Miwok word, hatchhatchie, which means "edible grasses."

    By 1882, Hetch Hetchy Valley had begun to be viewed as a potential site for a new reservoir. Preservationists led by John Muir wanted the valley to remain untouched, and though they launched a campaign to save it from encroachment, in 1915 the Hetch Hetchy River was dammed and the valley flooded to create a reservoir for Californians in the San Francisco Bay. The furor over this move led Muir to exclaim during the controversy, "That anyone would try to destroy [Hetch Hetchy Valley] seems; incredible...The proponents of the dam scheme bring forward a lot of bad arguments to prove that the only righteous thing to do with the people's parks is to destroy them bit by bit as they are able. Their arguments are curiously like those of the devil, devised for the destruction of the first garden. . . .Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man. (John Muir, The Yosemite, New York: Century, 1912, pp. 255-257, 260-262. Reprinted in Roderick Nash, The American Environment: Readings in The History of Conservation, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1968)

    We wish to thank Melissa Webster Speidel, President of the Bierstadt Foundation and Director of the Albert Bierstadt catalogue raisonné project, for her kind assistance in cataloguing this lot. This painting will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist's work.

    We would like to thanks Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc., for providing the following condition report:


    More information about Albert Bierstadt, also known as Bierstadt, Albert, Albert Bierstadt.

    Condition Report*: This work is in excellent condition overall, but it has not been restored for many years. The paper on which it is painted is well mounted onto a piece of Masonite. The painting is extremely dirty, with airborne dirt and a visibly discolored varnish.
    There is one restored crack in the upper center, which enters the cliff at the top of the composition. The upper left and upper right corners have been retouched. These restorations are not clearly visible under ultraviolet light, but there do not appear to be any others. In the water, there are some visibly uneven small dark vertical brush marks in the right and center, but these seem to have been applied by the artist to indicate some vegetation.
    Framed Dimensions 27.5 X 19.5 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2021
    7th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 836

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