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Albert Bierstadt is internationally recognized as the greatest nineteenth-century painter of Western American landscapes. Though born in Germany, Bierstadt grew up in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he began his artistic career. In 1853 he journeyed to Düsseldorf, Germany, to study at what was, at the time, one of the leading art centers in Europe....

Bierstadt returned to the United States in 1857, first to New Bedford and then, after making his first trip out west in 1859, he settled in New York City. From then on, his reputation lay almost completely in the paintings he created of the Rocky Mountains and subsequently in California, especially his views of Yosemite and the redwood forests. Through these works, Bierstadt established an international reputation....

Bierstadt’s first trip west, in 1859, took him to the Rocky Mountains; his second trip, in 1863, was his first to California. The artist’s California landscapes were so successful that, in 1871, two years after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, he returned to San Francisco, and for most of the next two years was settled there. ... Bierstadt’s presence in the largest and most wealthy California community coincided with a period of considerable cultural growth and art patronage. In 1871 the San Francisco Art Association was founded, Bierstadt being awarded honorary membership and contributing to their first shows held in 1872; he continued to do
so through most of the 1870s. During this decade, leading tycoons of vast fortunes, especially those involved with railroad development, became major supporters of the local art community. Bierstadt’s presence brought great impetus to the city’s artistic reputationhis achievement and travels were constantly noticed in the local newspapers and magazines and he in turn had an impact upon the landscape painters who dominated the local artistic scene.

Bierstadt painted throughout Northern California and beyondOregon, Washington, and Alaska. His methodology was to paint in oil on paper, and then enlarge some of these into monumental oil paintings on canvas. Many critics and connoisseurs today admire Bierstadt’s oils on paper as much as they do his large oils, some which are judged both exaggerated and inexact, since the artist often combined elements of disparate scenes in order to create a work with more spectacular impact. In addition, these oils on paper are the artist’s fresh and immediate views of the landscape which he would work into his later oilssome of which might be painted only years after, back in the Eastern studios....

Despite the admiration for so many of Bierstadt’s explorations of California scenery... his most admired California pictures were and remain those based upon his explorations of the Yosemite region. In addition to the definitive view of Yosemite Valley, ... Bierstadt explored and depicted other regions of Yosemite, one of which fascinated him especiallyHetch Hetchy Valley...

The name ‘Hetch Hetchy’ derives from a grass with edible seeds which grows in the valley, in the Native American Sierra Miwok tongue. The Valley was first entered by Europeans in 1850, and it was first surveyed in 1867. In the nineteenth century, the Hetch Hetchy Valley with the Tuolumne River was considered by some as glorious as the Yosemite Valley and the Merced River twenty miles distant. Unfortunately, after the 1906 earthquake, the city
of San Francisco applied to the United States Department of the Interior to gain water rights to Hetch Hetchy. Despite the opposition of environmental groups, approval of a dam was passed in 1913 and completed in 1923, so that the Valley is no more, completely flooded by the O’Shaughnessey Dam and filled by the Tuolumne River. Thus, Bierstadt’s paintings of the Hetch Hetchy preserve historical as well as artistic interest.

– William H. Gerdts
Author and noted authority on Albert Bierstadt

Mr. E. E. White, Mamaroneck, New York
Private collection, California

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