Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay, 1875 signed 'A Bierstadt' (lower right) oil on paper affixed to board 12 x 18in overall: 26 x 32in
PROVENANCE: With Willoughby Gallery, San Francisco, California, 1973 Collection of Edward Charles and Doris Bassett, Mill Valley, California
Albert Bierstadt was one of the most flamboyant personalities of the American art world in the second half of the nineteenth century. He combined a flair for showmanship with abundant artistic talent. Bierstadt produced panoramic views of majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls in the American West that awed and inspired audiences around the world. He was considered the most famous American painter by the late 19th century.
In the 19th century, the best painters began their artistic careers in the famous art schools of Europe and Bierstadt was no exception. He was German born but emigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts in his early 20's. He studied initially in Dusseldorf, exposing himself presumably to the European masters. He became friends with Worthington Whittredge and Sanford Robinson Gifford, whom he met in the studio of German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, one of the most notable historical painters of the day. After three years of study in Düsseldorf, Bierstadt moved to Rome, where he remained until 1857. He then moved to New Bedford. He brought with him 'Lake Lucerne, 1856', which he painted on a summer visit to Switzerland before his return to the States. It was the first painting exhibited by Bierstadt at the National Academy of Design in New York and set the course of his future popularity.
In 1859 Bierstadt had the opportunity to travel West on the Overland Trail with an expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander. The trip, which took him through Kansas and Nebraska territories and as far west as the Rocky Mountains, led Bierstadt to his life's work. After the expedition, Bierstadt settled in New York and took a studio in the newly constructed Tenth Street Studio Building, which offered grand rooms with high ceilingsgood for working and well appointed for receiving the public on viewing days. Using sketches and stereographs he had made during his travels, Bierstadt began painting the panoramic western scenes that secured his reputation as one of the nation's leading landscape painters.
Bierstadt visited the West again in 1863, when he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time. During another trip from 1871 to 1873, Bierstadt settled in San Francisco for an extended stay. It was perhaps during this stay that Bierstadt completed this painting of the island of Alcatraz. The military held a garrison on the island during this period, which was used primarily even then as a prison.