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Views of the American West

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Rocky Mountains
Albert Bierstadt. "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak." New York: Edward Bierstadt, 1866. Steel engraving by James Smillie. 16 1/2 x 28. Excellent condition.

The earliest art of the American west tended to focus on the Indians and their culture. After mid-century, this theme slowly gave way to more of a concern with landscape and genre subjects. Perhaps the most influential artist associated with this change was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). He was born in Germany, near Düsseldorf, grew up in the United States, and in his twenties studied at the Düsseldorf Academy in Germany. There he was deeply impressed by the tradition of heroic painting for which that school was famous. In 1858, soon after returning to America, Bierstadt paid his own way in order to accompany General F.W. Lander on an expedition to improve the wagon route from Fort Laramie to California. Bierstadt was tremendously impressed with the Rocky Mountains, which provided him with the subject matter for his most famous paintings. Bierstadt passed through the Rockies in the nascent days of the great American expansion west; the transcontinental railroad, the pony express, and most of the Indian wars lay in the future. Thus Bierstadt saw and absorbed an almost pristine frontier, for which the rocky peaks provided an emphatic exclamation.

After he returned east, Bierstadt straight away began to work on his western canvases, exhibiting his first Rocky Mountain painting in 1860 at the National Academy, where it was very well received. Thus encouraged, Bierstadt continued to produce large, dramatic mountain landscapes, which reached a peak with his large and sensational 1863 canvas, "The Rocky Mountains." This painting immediately received popular acclaim, establishing Bierstadt, in the minds of some of the public and critics, as the greatest American landscape artist of his day. This painting traveled widely and was purchased by James McHenry for the then fantastic sum of $25,000. Following this, Bierstadt received many commissions for new works, was acclaimed at home and abroad, and hobnobbed with the rich and royal. His canvases continued to dramatically portray the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Rockies. His were "the first paintings to capture successfully the wonder and excitement that the artist and other early trail blazers felt when they confronted the spectacular western scenery." (Trenton & Hassrick, The Rocky Mountains, Oklahoma, 1983) The success of "The Rocky Mountain" painting spurred Bierstadt to ask James Smillie, one of the best American engravers, to make an engraving of the image. Smillie took three years to produce this magnificent print. $7,400

Western Clearing
W.H. Bartlett. "Western Clearing." From The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted To Literature and Religion. Cincinnati: March 1855. 4 1/2 x 7 1/4. Engraving by C.A. Jewett & Co. Very good condition.

A wonderfully evocative image of a pioneer family's home in a clearing in the western wood. This if from the magazine, The Ladies' Repository, a periodical produced in Cincinnati by members of the Methodist Church. It was a magazine "Devoted To Literature and Region," containing articles, poetry, fiction, and notes of interest to its readers. One of its most interesting aspects was the inclusion of engravings including a number of views of scenes around North America. $65

Ladies Repository
F.N. Otis. "San Francisco (From Rincon Point)." From The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted To Literature and Religion. Cincinnati: February 1857. 4 3/4 x 8. Steel engraving by W. Wellstood. Very good condition.

An unusual and scarce steel engraving from The Ladies' Repository. This mid-nineteenth century periodical was produced in Cincinnati by members of the Methodist Church. It was a magazine "Devoted To Literature and Religion," containing articles, poetry, fiction, and notes of interest to its readers. One of its most interesting aspects was the inclusion of steel engravings. Many had a religious or "genre" theme, but others were topographical views of different parts of the United States. This magazine had a limited circulation and so these prints are quite a bit more scarce than most steel engravings of the period. Some of the views are based on images by W.H. Bartlett, but others are taken either from some of the large folio views of the period or are drawn first hand for The Ladies' Repository. Whatever their source, these are among the most interesting and hard-to-find American views of the middle of last century. $165
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Mount Shasta
J.D. Smillie. "Mount Shasta." From Picturesque America. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1873. Steel engraving by E.F. Brandard. 5 3/4 x 9 1/8. Hand color. Excellent condition.

A handsome print from Picturesque America. This two volume set provided a glimpse of nineteenth century America--its towns, cities, rivers, ports, important architecture- through its text and illustrations. Most of the images were of eastern locations, but this is one of the few showing the American West. In it, Mount Shasta looms over an Indian encampment near the forest. $135

Gold DiggingSpacerZuni Pueblo

Prints by Herrmann J. Meyer. New York, ca. 1855. Engravings. Ca. 4 x 6. Very good condition.

Herrmann J. Meyer and his father, Joseph Meyer, were German publishers of an illustrated travel series called Meyer's Universum. Joseph Meyer very much admired the United States and sent his son to establish a publishing house in New York. Herrmann proceeded to publish an American edition of the Universum, but also desired to publish a new series of his own called, The United States Illustrated. Meyer enlisted the services of Charles A. Dana editor of the New York Tribune to serve as editor of the series. Unfortunately, the series did not do well, and Meyer decided to return to Germany. After the death of his father, he assumed control of their Bibliographischen Institut which is still in business today. The prints from Meyer's various publications are mostly based on first-hand renderings and are finely engraved. They are some of the most interesting and desirable small views of the trans-Mississippi West.


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