BIERSTADT, ALBERT. 1830-1902.
LARGE ARCHIVE OF CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE ARTIST AND HIS PATRON.
72 Autograph Letters Signed (Albert Bierstadt and A. Bierstadt), approx. 313 pp recto and verso, 4to and 8vo, various places including New York, Quebec, Waterville, ME, Ottawa, and Paris, October 23, 1866 to April 8, 1887 (most from 1879-1881), to James McHenry, many on Bierstadts studio letterhead, pages creased, toned, some chipping at edges and soiling throughout, but overall legible.
German born Albert Bierstadt was one of the foremost American painters of his day, famous for his oversized panoramic views of the west. From 1860, when he was elected a member of the National Academy of design, to the 1890s he continued to produce landscapes romanticizing the (still largely unexplored) frontier. Bierstadt did not confine his energies to painting, however. Late in life he became involved in the promotion of various inventions, including his own designs for the improvement of railway cars.
This archive of correspondence is between Bierstadt and British railroad magnate James McHenry. Their relationship apparently began in 1865, when McHenry purchased Bierstadts most celebrated work, The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak, for the then unheard of sum of $25,000. The earliest letters in this archive discuss art, as Bierstadt keeps McHenry apprised of recent works and new projects. From October 23, 1866, in part: If Mr. McLean can have as good a chromo as can be made, at that price, he may order me 500 copies at once
it has always been my intention to have it chromolithographed and I could sell 500 tomorrow if I had them
if it can begin at once it may be done before the French exhibition opens. I do not know how soon it must be there, but do not want to fail in having it there.
Within a few years, Bierstadts letters cease to discuss the business of art and instead focus on commerce, particularly McHenrys railroad interests in the U.S. As a financier of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, McHenry butted heads with Hugh Jewett, president of the Erie Railroad, over the terms of a recent lease. The two companies became embroiled in a series of ugly lawsuits, concluded to no ones satisfaction. In these letters, Bierstadt seems to be acting as McHenrys agent in America, using his social connections with Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and other titans of industry to try to effect a compromise with Jewett and further McHenrys interests in various railroad schemes. From March 16, 1881, in part: In the new directorship which is likely to be made soon I hope to be able to serve you to some extent, and even to influence some of the London trustees, so you need not hesitate to command me by cable as I can with cable to something to bring about a change if necessary. Gould & Sage at this moment are on the top round of the ladder in Railway matters. They are both good friends of mine, come to my studio often, and although they have no taste for pictures, I want to cultivate them to serve you. And seeing them in this social way I think I can do something. Bierstadt also passes on stock tips, business gossip, and asks for investment advice for himself. An unusual archive, one that reveals a different side of the artist.