ALBERT BIERSTADT

american (1830-1902)

SALMON FISHERY VILLAGE

oil on paper, 12 x 17 inches (sight),

unsigned.

In 1889, after Albert Bierstadt completed his iconic painting, The Last of the Buffalo, he headed north to Montreal where he caught a train headed to the far West. Traveling by train toward the Pacific Northwest he arrived in Banff, Alberta on August 5th.  From there, he decided to go directly to the coast where he boarded the side-wheeler steamship, Ancon.

 

On August 28th, the Ancon ran aground in Loring Bay, Alaska, stranding Bierstadt and the other passengers for five days. Bierstadt described the experience to his wife as “a narrow escape.” Before being rescued they lived in Indian huts and salmon canneries.   Bierstadt further wrote he “was busy all the time and have 60 studies in color and two books of drawings of Alaska.”

 

One of Bierstadt’s most famous studies, The Wreck of the Ancon in Loring Bay (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) derived from this trip. Many of the “60 studies in color” have not specifically been identified as pertaining to this trip, as they were relatively cursory studies, created quickly. Salmon Fishery Village is clearly one of Bierstadt’s more accomplished works featuring two Indian women sitting in the foreground, and several birch-bark canoes either sprawled on the ground or up on a canoe rack. The village, itself, is clearly a working village – not a romantic scene from the Western Plains. A lone figure stands in the background possibly working on the canoe on the rack. Clearly a field study, Salmon Fishery Village, reveals Bierstadt’s ability to quickly capture the essentials of his subject with a unique portrayal of a working village.

 

Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany in 1830. He moved with his family when he was two years old to New Bedford, Massachusetts. As a young artist, he travelled back to Germany to seek formal instruction. Ironically, in Europe he met American artists, Emanuel Leutze and Worthington Whittredge who served as mentors to Bierstadt.

 

In 1858, a year after returning from Europe, Bierstadt exhibited his first painting in New York at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design. It was received with grand critical acclaim and he was elected an honorary member of the academy. Following this successful reception, he began taking trips west to paint the American landscape.

 

He established a gallery at the Tenth Street Studio Building inviting the public to view his monumental canvases of the Rockies, the Yosemite Valley and other views of the western landscape. Bierstadt continued to spend time in California but also travelled back to Europe where he maintained a strong market for his work. In 1867, he was invited to show two paintings privately to Queen Victoria.

 

Despite a successful career, towards the end of his life American tastes were changing and he struggled as an artist. In 1889, his submission to the American committee for the Paris Exposition Universelle was rejected. In 1902 Bierstadt died in New York as struggling artist. His work was not properly revaluated until the 1960s and he is now one of the best known American artists of the 19th century. 

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