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Lot 184
(2015)
Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902)
Wind River Country Wyoming (ca. 1860)
oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 39 1/2 in
$800,000

Unlike so many celebrated artists, Albert Bierstadt saw great financial success and critical acclaim during his lifetime. Born in Soligen, Germany, in 1830 Bierstadt immigrated to the United States as a toddler; settling with his family in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1853 Bierstadt returned to Germany to pursue his formal artistic training at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf, studying alongside Worthington Whittredge, Emmanuel Leutze, and Carl Wimar. Upon returning to the United States in 1857, Bierstadt painted the mountain ranges of the East Coast, developing his skill as a landscape painter. 

Renowned for his paintings of the American west, Bierstadt first traveled west in 1859 as part of Frederick Lander’s road building crew. Like John Mix Stanley had done for Isaac Stevens’ expedition, Bierstadt served to provide a visual record of the journey and to depict the grandeur of the West. Enchanted by the Rockies, Bierstadt developed a keen interest in Wyoming’s branch of them, known as the Wind River Range. The largest mountain range in Wyoming, the Winds are home to towering peaks, indomitable glaciers, and some of the wildest country in the territory.

In Wind River Country, Wyoming Bierstadt clearly expresses his love and admiration of the region as well as artistic ability. A remarkable example of Bierstadt’s luminism, the canvas all but glows; suffused in a warm golden light. A pair of antelope pauses in the foreground, gazing out across the landscape before continuing to graze or darting away. A common trope in Bierstadt’s work, these small figures in the foreground—in concert with the articulated tree line on the right side—serve to magnify the vast expanse of the midground and background. Looking further into the painting, rolling hills give way to a meandering river—the sun’s last rays glinting off its slow wide turns. Finally, the eye is drawn back to the soaring peaks of the Wind River Range, breaking through a golden fog to punctuate the cloudless skyline. Unpopulated, untouched, untainted, the Winds are shown here in their pristine primal beauty; embodying the freedom, expansion, and American pride that marked the late nineteenth-century.

Throughout his time in Wyoming, Bierstadt sketched, photographed, and meticulously recorded his surroundings. Returning to the East Coast, he created numerous large scale paintings of the region. Major paintings like this masterwork of the Wind River Range are currently in the collections of the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and The Whitney Gallery of Western Art.