Monday, June 4, 2012

Albert Bierstadt's: "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak" + Easy Veggie Stew

The painting, "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak" by Albert Bierstadt, as it looks in the museum. It was donated to The Metropolitan Museum of art in 1907, where it remains on permanent display.

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) 1863 Oil on canvas

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak is a major work by the German-born artist, Albert Bierstadt. It and other paintings by him, helped to shape the visual identity of the American West for most people in the United States and abroad. The work originated from an expedition the artist made in 1859 to the Nebraska Territory (present-day Wyoming and Utah) with Colonel Frederick W. Lander. By the summer of 1859, the party had reached the Wind River Range in the Rocky Mountains, where they found this peak. This painting would help to advertise the western frontier as being available for claim by American settlers, who believed in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny - a belief that Americans were the divinely ordained masters of these lands. Bierstadt titled the painting, and the central mountain pictured, "Lander's Peak" as a tribute to expedition leader, Colonel Lander, who had been recently killed in the U.S. Civil War. The title stuck and the mountain retains the name "Lander's Peak" today. 

A photographic, middle-aged, portrait of Albert Bierstadt.
Bierstadt was one of the first artists with European classical training to capture the beauty of the American West. Bierdstadt came to America with his parents as a 3 year old child when his family settled in Massachusetts. For his formal education, he returned to his native Dusseldorf, Germany to study art under the master landscape painters, Andreas and Oswald Auchenbach at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art. 

Oswald Auchenbach, an instructor at Dusseldorf Academy, was a German landscape painter who taught Bierstadt "how" to make his great paintings of America. (detail of a landscape painting by Oswald shown above)

Bierstadt returned to the US in 1858 and quickly became the official artist on Colonel Lander's expedition to survey the Rocky Mountains. In the rugged landscapes of the Rockies and the big sky of the American West, the artist found the images for which he has become best known. On this first visit West, Bierstadt made studies and notes for his paintings "Morning in the Rocky Mountains" as well as "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak". 

His paintings proved to be an excellent medium for selling stocks and bonds to finance construction of the railroads through the western frontier. Bierstadt accumulated a large bank account, because his beautifully painted and dramatic canvases caught the fancy of the wealthy, the US Government and foreign royalty. Congress approved $20,000, a huge sum at the time, to buy just one Bierstadt. His paintings hang in many museums in the US and around the world.

"Estes Park, Colorado" by Albert Bierstadt [1877] is a featured painting in the Denver Art Museum and is a part of the Denver Public Library's famous "Western Art Collection". 

(A personal note) Having lived much of my life in the Rocky Mountains and the western United States, Bierstadt is an artist I enjoy, because I have experienced the reality of his images of the American West. I always make a special effort to view his paintings, in any collection or museum I visit. 

The 10,456 foot high summit of "Lander's Peak" is located south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bierstadt painted the 10' x 6' oil on canvas painting completely in his studio, from studies made during the survey expedition. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the current caretaker of Bierstadt's "Lander's Peak". The work is considered to be Bierstadt's most famous work and arguably his best. He completed it in 1863, exhibited it right away and sold it in 1865 for $25,000 to James McHenry. The artist also thought it was one of his best and later bought the painting back, passing it on to his brother, Edward. The foreground of the painting shows an idyllic American Indian encampment in a tree lined meadow, next to a high altitude lake fed by a snow-melt waterfall.

Let's take a close look at Bierstadt's small genre painting of American Indians, which is a happenstance detail of this painting and overpowered by the mountain scene in the top two-thirds of the composition. The darker bottom third is almost impossible to see in most reproductions, but is wonderfully clear in person and up close. I have made close-up photographs of this painting and lightened the exposure so you can enjoy the full pleasure of this American masterpiece. Some colors have shifted with the brighter exposures.
Let's begin our close observation of "Lander's Peak" by again looking at the full composition, below.
The artwork is large: 10' wide x 6' tall unframed. Albert Bierstadt's "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak" is an oil-on-canvas painted from notes and reference sketches made on location and during Colonel Lander's expedition to the Rocky Mountain west.

(Detail of the American Indian genre painting.) Overview of the middle / right foreground scene.

(Detail) A hunting party shows off their abundant production of elk, antelope, big horn sheep, fox, geese, fish and their big prize, a grizzly bear, where many have gathered to see. The wooden saddles, saddle bags, etc are in a pile on the left.

(Detail) Family scene (to right of the hunting party) shows American Indian clothing, hearth and home.

Papoose next to pictograms painted on the tent, to either record history or predict an abundant hunt.

Fish being smoked / cooked on wooden stakes and Bierstadt's signature and date in orange against earth and green grass. (location: lower right corner)

(Detail) A family near the lake. Father grooms a horse, mother, young child, papoose, a dog and their other grazing horses. Note the close observation of exactly how tee pees are constructed. (location: foreground, above the hunting party).

Men taking the hunting party horses to graze and a young man, center, patiently waits with his bow & arrow as his prey pokes a nose out of a burrow. (location: center foreground)

(location: middle / left foreground) The rest of the tribe gathers and cooks in a second tee pee cluster near some shade trees.

(location: lower / left foreground) Gunnison Prairie Dogs, scrub oak, bristle cone pine, brush and natural grasses on a Rocky Mountian hillside.

The beautifully rendered mountain and it's peak, are the brightest part of the painting, along with the direct sunlight on the rocks near the waterfall. These bright areas constantly draw our eyes up, toward the snowy cap, the hazy blue sky and the clouds. Now take it ALL in and enjoy the whole composition. Bierstadt's "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak" is one of the first great paintings in art history to show the uniqueness of the vast American western landscape and the idyllic, low impact lifestyle of the native American Indians!
To give you a better sense of his work, three more Bierstadt paintings are shown in our postscript section, at the end of this issue.

A Fast Veggie Stew

Today's markets offer pre-chopped or pre-sliced produce. Take advantage of this service.

2 tablespoons olive oil, or vegetable oil spray. 
1 medium onion, diced 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper 
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 qt. vegetable broth
2 tablespoons dry roux (dry toasted flour in a skillet, until a light brown color.) 
2 tablespoons lime juice, put them in one at a time and make it suit your taste. 


Put 2 Tbsp. of olive oil or spray to coat your skillet over high heat. Buy a tray of mixed, pre-sliced veggies and throw them into a large skillet with high walls. Add one medium onion, diced. Saute until veggies start to brown, then stir in a box of vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons of dry roux, a sprinkle of dry basil, some salt and ground chipotle pepper to season.  Let the mixture simmer, covered, for 20 minutes and then uncovered for 10 minutes - stirring from time to time. Remove from the heat, stir, taste for seasoning / adjust and add the lime juice.  

Let cool for a few minutes before serving. The hearty broth will thicken as it cools. 

I divide this stew into small batches and freeze it, for a fast, healthy, microwave meal.

Until later,

A few more paintings by Albert Bierstadt.

Mt. Rainier

Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River oil on paper [date unknown]

1890c Mount Sir Donald, Asulkan Glacier oil on canvas 71 x 51 cm

ARTSnFOOD, All rights reserved. Concept & Original Text © Copyright 2012 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

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