Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874) Hell-Gate, Sweet Water River (Porte d'Enfer), Wyoming 38 1/4 x 32 1/4in overall: 47 1/2 x 41 1/2in

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Lot 125
Alfred Jacob Miller
(American, 1810-1874)
Hell-Gate, Sweet Water River (Porte d'Enfer), Wyoming 38 1/4 x 32 1/4in overall: 47 1/2 x 41 1/2in

Sold for US$ 377,000 inc. premium
Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874)
Hell-Gate, Sweet Water River (Porte d'Enfer), Wyoming
oil on canvas
38 1/4 x 32 1/4in
overall: 47 1/2 x 41 1/2in


  • Provenance
    Collection of Sir William Drummond Stewart, 1839.
    Sale, Chapman's, Edinburgh, June 16-17, 1871.
    Collection of Frank Nichols.
    Collection of the Farquharson Family, Manor House, Scotland.
    Private collection, North America, acquired from the above.
    With J.N. Bartfield Gallery, New York, New York.
    Private estate, Northern California.

    New York, Apollo Gallery, Exhibition of 18 Paintings, May 9 - 22, 1839, no. 6.
    Laramie, Wyoming, University of Wyoming Art Gallery, 1975.
    Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Rendezvous to Roundup: The First One Hundred Years of Art in Wyoming, April 16 - October 12, 1990.

    'Apollo Gallery - Original Oil Paintings', Morning Herald, May 11, 1839, p. 2, col. 1, and May 16, 1839, p. 2, col. 3.
    D. Reynolds, W. R. Johnston, Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist on the Oregon Trail, Amon Carter Museum, 1982, pp. 28-29, illus. p. 29, p. 259, cat. no. 165B.

    Copies of Rendezvous to Roundup: The first 100 years of art in Wyoming and Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist on the Oregon Trail accompany this lot.

    In the spring of 1837, Sir William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish nobleman, invited Alfred Jacob Miller to accompany him on a summer-long odyssey to the Rocky Mountains as the expedition's artist. After gathering in St. Louis, the expedition moved on to Westport, now known as Kansas City, for a final outfitting. Their journey took them first to Fort Laramie, originally established as a private fur trading fort in 1834, and then north to the Wind River Mountains for the annual rendezvous of fur trappers.

    The expedition ended in St. Louis approximately six months later. Miller returned to his studio in New Orleans to complete his paintings of the trip. Sir Stewart, upon arriving back in St. Louis, learned of the death of his brother and of his inheritance of Murthly Castle in Scotland. He immediately started making arrangements for a return to Scotland and as mementos of his adventures he planned to take along Miller's paintings and native plants and animal examples. Now that Sir Stewart was lord of Murthly Castle, Miller's paintings assumed greater importance for they would occupy prominent walls in the castle.

    While Stewart was in St. Louis handling last minute details for his trip home to Scotland, a friend arranged an invitation to the artist to exhibit paintings from their recent Western journey at the Apollo Gallery in New York. The subject matter of these painting ranged widely from a portrait of the 17-year-old Akira Squaw, to huge views of Stewart's camp, to buffalo hunts, to Hell-Gate. These paintings were the first views of the Rocky Mountains exhibited in New York and created quite a sensation. The show was up for approximately seven weeks and immediately after closing the paintings were shipped directly to Scotland. Hell-Gate, Sweet Water River hung in Murthly Castle until 1871 when it, along with a number of Sir Stewart's treasures, were auctioned by his heir.

    This painting depicts a scene in Northern Colorado, 150 miles west of Fort Laramie, where the Sweetwater River runs along a rocky ridge 400 feet high. During their journey, this spot along the river was clogged with debris. So much so that one had to swim or mountain climb to get through. Colonel Fremont, a traveler on his way to the south pass of the Rocky Mountains, described the scene as follows:

    The length of the passage is about 300 yards and the width 35 yards. The walls of rock are vertical, and about 400 feet in height; and the stream in the gate is almost entirely choked up by masses which have fallen from above. In the wall on the right bank is a dike of trap rock, cutting through a fine gray granite; near the point of this ridge crop out some strata of the valley formation, consisting of a greyish sandstone and fine grey conglomerate and marl.

    While the intrepid expedition took stock of their path forward, Alfred Jacob Miller took time to capture this majestic spot along the river. The artist included Sir Stewart wearing his signature white buckskin jacket in the foreground lower left with a pair of work horses in the lower right.
Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874) Hell-Gate, Sweet Water River (Porte d'Enfer), Wyoming 38 1/4 x 32 1/4in overall: 47 1/2 x 41 1/2in
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