Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) Entrance to Golden Gate 16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm) (Painted circa 1872.)

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Lot 15
Albert Bierstadt
Entrance to Golden Gate 16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm)

Sold for US$ 250,312 inc. premium

American Art

24 Nov 2020, 16:00 EST

New York

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Entrance to Golden Gate
signed with conjoined initials 'ABierstadt' (lower left)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm)
Painted circa 1872.


  • Provenance
    Private collection, San Francisco, California, circa 1960s.
    Montgomery Gallery, San Francisco, California.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2012.

    San Francisco, California, California Historical Society, Californians Collect California, May 1-29, 1970, no. 5. (as Entrance to the Golden Gate)
    San Francisco, California, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Albert Bierstadt, An Observer of Air, Light and the Feeling of Place, August 3, 1985-January 6, 1986. (as Entrance to San Francisco, Golden Gate)

    We wish to thank Melissa Webster Speidel, President of the Bierstadt Foundation and Director of the Albert Bierstadt catalogue raisonné project, for her kind assistance in cataloguing this lot. This painting will be included in her database being compiled on the artist's work.

    Albert Bierstadt was one of the most vivacious personalities of the American art world in the second half of the nineteenth century. He combined a flair for showmanship with his abundant artistic talent to produce panoramic views of majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls in the American West that awed and inspired audiences around the world. Entrance to Golden Gate epitomizes Bierstadt's dramatic celebration of an unspoiled landscape and his mastery of light. During his extensive travels throughout the West, Bierstadt spent much of his time in California recording the topography of the Golden State from the coast to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His admiration for the resplendent beauty of California's coast line, particularly of San Francisco, is indisputable, as evidenced in some of his other well-known works on the subject from the same period, such as San Francisco Bay (1871-1873, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) and Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay (1875, Private collection, Berkeley, California).

    Characteristic of Bierstadt's work, he chose to depict a landscape almost void of the presence of man and instead brings the placid, naturalistic splendor of California to the forefront. Bierstadt beautifully depicts the monumental and distant vistas across the San Francisco Bay with golden light hitting the outcropping of the cliffs and the cresting waves colliding with the rocky shore in the foreground. In the distance looking northward up the California coast, a dense fog bank rolls over the far hills. The light house, identified as the Point Bonita Lighthouse, and the sailboat that moves inland are the only suggestions of human life. Furthermore, he has chosen a vantage point that immerses the viewer into the scene as if the viewer is observing the landscape from an adjacent cliff allowing his audience to connect with the beauty and tranquility of the landscape on a more personal level.

    Bierstadt and his wife Rosalie arrived in San Francisco in July 1871 aboard a modern and recently constructed transcontinental railroad. This journey was much quicker and far more comfortable compared to Bierstadt's earlier and much lengthier expeditions to California that began in 1859 by wagon trail. The San Francisco that greeted the Bierstadts when they arrived had been transformed from a mere prospecting settlement to the most cosmopolitan and industrial city on the West Coast. New buildings began to take over the city skyline and the streets were filled with horses, carriages, merchants, trolly cars, and the masses of new residents that now called San Francisco home. The fresh and captivating energy of this growing western metropolis attracted the Bierstadts and the couple would decide to stay for approximately two years.

    During their third extended stay in California, Bierstadt decided to open a studio on Clay Street. His studio had large windows on all sides that provided magnificent views of San Francisco looking over the city below, the bay from Golden Gate to the west, and Mount Diablo to the east. Facing to the north, the window was so large that the wall appeared to be almost all glass. The San Francisco Bulletin paid a visit to his studio and reported that Bierstadt would have been able to take in "a view of the whole passage from the Pacific Ocean to the inner bay, with the peninsular and Marine [sic] county shores, including Mt. Tamalpais, a distance of six or seven miles." (R. Trump, Life and Works of Albert Bierstadt, dissertation, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1963, p. 166) These views from his studio no doubt inspired him daily and provided him with a constant visual resource to study the majestic landscape surrounding San Francisco even when Bierstadt could not venture out into the field to paint, which he did often.

    Due to the struggle of transporting materials in the field, Bierstadt worked extensively with oil paints on a fine paper support rather than canvas. Entrance to Golden Gate is slightly larger in scale and more highly finished than most of his compositions of this type. Furthermore, it is strongly believed that Bierstadt may have painted Entrance to Golden Gate on the spot in the field rather than from a sketch or series of sketches back at his studio. This makes the work an incredibly unique and rare example from Bierstadt's oeuvre, as it would make it one of the earliest California landscapes painted directly from nature.

    Unaligned with the majestic landscapes of resplendent romanticism ripe for Eastern consumption that brought Bierstadt notable fame, Entrance to Golden Gate provides a more subtly thoughtful yet still luminous vision of the West as an untouched, American Eden. Whereas many of the artist's large-scale works represent the overwhelming grandeur that is oftentimes at conflict with growing industrialization and the presence of man, the present work is exceptionally rare in that Bierstadt depicts an intimate view of a coastal landscape seen as slowly evolving rather than rapidly urbanizing. The small markers of man represented by the lighthouse and sailboat are dwarfed by the awe-inspiring cliffs and waves that strike the rocky shore. The image of a breaking wave makes one of its first appearances here and would become the subject of some of his best-known works throughout the seventies and eighties. Bierstadt used light as a tool to reveal the structures of his waves and built the white foam and crashing spray from rich impasto. The power and majesty of the sea broken by the imposing landscape is enriched by Bierstadt's technical ability to portray light that gives the sea a luminescent and enticing quality. Entrance to Golden Gate stands out in Bierstadt's oeuvre for its understated reverence that elevates this serene coastal scene to a wonderfully detailed landscape bathed in a golden California light.

    Summarizing Bierstadt's achievement, his biographer, Gordon Hendricks, wrote that "his successes envelop us with the beauty of nature, its sunlight, its greenness, its mists, its subtle shades, its marvelous freshness. All of these Bierstadt felt deeply. Often he was able, with the struggle that every artist knows, to put his feelings on canvas. When he succeeded in what he was trying to do-to pass along some of his own passion for the wildness and beauty of the new West-he was as good as any landscapist in the history of American art." (G. Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1973, p. 10)
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) Entrance to Golden Gate 16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm) (Painted circa 1872.)
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) Entrance to Golden Gate 16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm) (Painted circa 1872.)
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) Entrance to Golden Gate 16 x 22in (40.6 x 55.9cm) (Painted circa 1872.)
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