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Albert Bierstadt in the Canadian Rockies

By Anne Ewen, Chief Curator of Art and Heritage

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Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902, American), Bow River Falls, Canadian Rockies, c. 1889,

oil on canvas, laid on board, collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum,

courtesy of the Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York

Following is a brief summary of Canadian essayist Allan Pringle’s article "Albert Bierstadt in Canada," published in The American Art Journal/Winter 1985.

In June 1887, American artist Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) introduced himself by letter to the Canadian Pacific Railway Manager, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne and requested maps and photographs in preparation for a proposed tour in August. Widely acclaimed as an artist and well-connected, Bierstadt was known to Van Horne by reputation as a man of great self-esteem with powerful and respectable friends. As such Van Horne not only offered free transportation and accommodation to Bierstadt but also to his wife, her maid, and a group of visiting friends from Europe. However, on August 2nd, Bierstadt changed his plans, informing Van Horne that only he and one other would make the trip. For a second time, passes and letters of introduction were supplied. Again Bierstadt changed plans and this time wrote unapologetically to Van Horne from Lucerne, Switzerland. Then in May 1888, Van Horne sent Bierstadt additional materials, hoping to tempt the master painter to the Rockies. Meanwhile, Bierstadt was corresponding with CPR President Sir George Stephen (1829 – 1921) about his rejuvenated interest in painting the Rockies. Nonetheless, Bierstadt became preoccupied and remained in New York.

Finally, Bierstadt departed Montreal on July 30, 1889 bound for Winnipeg, Banff, Donald and Vancouver with free, first class accommodation provided at the Banff Springs Hotel, Glacier House and Hotel Vancouver. While resting at Glacier House, he met Canadian painter Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith (1846 – 1923), who as one of the first wave of CPR painters, had been to the Rockies every summer since 1887. Both eager to capture new scenes, the two artists set out together, spending September camping and sketching at Lake Louise and in the Bow River Valley. From their experience together Bierstadt’s influence had inspirational effects on Bell-Smith, instilling a renewed interest in painting the Rockies. Consequently, Bell-Smith’s numerous trips to the region earned him the title “The Premier Painter of the Rockies”.

The Whyte Museum extends special thanks and appreciation to Eric W. Baumgartner, Senior Vice President, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc. N.Y. for arranging the loan of this painting.

This painting is on display in our current feature exhibition,Drawn to the West, until January 17, 2021. This exhibition focuses on artists that have been drawn to western Canada for centuries. The vastness of the prairie and the magnitude of the mountain landscape has both captivated and challenged artists. Drawn to the West features the art and artifacts of these adventuresome individuals including images of hieroglyphics to present-day creations.

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The Whyte Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts

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