Brook in Woods signed 'A Bierstadt' (lower left) oil on paper laid down on Masonite 20 3/8 x 29 3/4in
PROVENANCE: Mrs. Winston Dibble Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, acquired from the above, 1956 Sale, Christie's, New York, 20 May 2009, lot 74 Acquired by the present owner from the above
EXHIBITED: Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Art Museum, American Art from Four New Jersey Museums, May 11-26, 1968.
LITERATURE: G. Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1974, n.p., no. CL-147, illustrated. Montclair Art Museum, The American Painting Collection of the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, 1977, p. 66, illustrated. M.S. Kushner, A. Anreus, M. Grzesiak and V. Wageman, Three Hundred Years of American Painting: The Montclair Art Museum Collection, New York, 1989, p. 132, no. 36, illustrated.
Albert Bierstadt is best known for his mammoth and awe-inspiring paintings of the American West. The artist famously traveled throughout the West on several occasions for lengthy periods of time to amass sketches and imagery which would contribute to his studio-painted works for decades to come. With each trip, Bierstadt would head deeper into these wild landscapes, eventually covering vast regions of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington.
After four years of artistic study in Europe and a short stay in his hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the artist's first trip which focused on exploration of the Rocky Mountains, was in 1859 . With the use of both painting and photography, Bierstadt and his travel companions were able to accumulate a large amount of available imagery to work from. Just as Hudson River School painter Frederic E. Church had done before him, Bierstadt hoped to bring a visualization of an uncharted terrain to a population unable to experience it for themselves. Meticulously, Bierstadt would use these sketches and images to create large scale canvases containing realistic elements, ultimately creating somewhat fantastical images of the Westfirst of the Rocky Mountains and later of Yosemite.
In addition to these grand pictorial essays rendered in panoramic splendor, Bierstadt also sought out quieter, poetic moments in nature that reveal his keen powers of observation. He was always interested in the play of light across elements of a landscape and at times exploited these effects with multiple light sources, such as moonlight and firelight, competing in the same painting. In Brook in Woods, the artist is exploring how a single light source can behave differently in a wood. In the right half, we see a densely canopied backwater where the sunlight gently filters through the dense stand of trees giving the pond a soft glow. On the left, sunlight glimmers off the stream directly and at the same time backlighting fires up the foliage in the trees.
The location of the present work is not indicated by any particular inscription or topography; however, it does bear a certain affinity to other works Bierstadt executed in the West. Yosemite Valley, California, ca. 1863 in the Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, Florida, a work on paper as well, employs many of the same lighting techniques as seen in Brook in the Woods. The valley is seen from Merced River with an overhanging canopy of trees. The ripples in the river, the leaves and the bark on the sunward sides of the trees are highlighted. Dogwood, previously titled Lake in Yosemite Valley at the Haggin Museum in Stockton also concentrates on the subtle light fall as it passes through a forest interior.
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