Albert Bierstadt letters, 1880-1893

A Finding Aid to the Albert Bierstadt Letter Collection, 1860-1900, in the Archives of American Art, by Stephanie Ashley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Albert Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany, in January 1830. His family emigrated to the United States when he was two years of age and settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.

In 1853 Bierstadt traveled to Germany to study painting at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 1858, following his return to the United States, he gained national attention for organizing a large exhibition of paintings including fifteen of his own works. Bierstadt drew inspiration from the painters of the Hudson River School, and regularly visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire to make sketches for his landscape paintings.

In 1859 Bierstadt traveled to the Colorado and Wyoming territories sketching landscapes in the company of a United States government survey expedition. On his return he took studio space at the new Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City and began a series of large-scale western landscape paintings, including Yosemite Valley and Thunderstorm in the Rocky Mountains. These paintings, known for their theatrical and romantic depiction of the grandeur and drama of the American West, brought Bierstadt great popularity during the 1860s.

Bierstadt's paintings were widely exhibited in the United States and abroad and commanded some of the highest prices in American art at the time, although his reputation began to decline somewhat in the 1880s in the face of changing public tastes.

Bierstadt was a member of the Century Association from 1862-1902 and a member of the National Academy of Design from 1860 until his death in 1902.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

This small collection comprises 13 letters written by renowned Hudson River School landscape painter Albert Bierstadt between 1860 and 1900. The majority of the letters were penned in the last two decades of his life.

Bierstadt writes specifically of his work in several of the letters and refers to two paintings, Laramie Peak and The Jungfrau. In one letter he writes of the inspiration he finds in nature through his love of the mountains. Bierstadt invites friends to his studio in New York City, mentions a trip to Yosemite in the 1870s and writes letters of introduction on behalf of friends. Two of the letters concern commissions and discuss financial matters.

Arrangement and Series Description

Due to the small size of this collection, items are arranged as one chronological series.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects-Topical:

  • Hudson River school of landscape painting
  • Art -- Economic aspects
  • Artists' studios -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Landscape painters -- New York (State) -- New York

Subjects-Geographical:

  • Yosemite National Park (Calif.)

Provenance

The collection was acquired by the Archives of American Art in a series of accessions between 1955 and 2001. Six letters were donated by Charles Feinberg in 1955-1957; one letter was donated by Letitia Howe in 1976; one letter was donated by Mrs. Miles Reber, grandaughter-in-law of General Nelson in 1976; two letters were purchased from Charles Hamilton Autographs in 1956; one letter was purchased from Steele in 1956; and one letter was purchased from Scott J. Winslow Associates in 2001.

Separated and Related Materials

Also found at the Archives of American Art are the Robert Neuhaus papers concerning Clyfford Still and Albert Bierstadt, 1884-1984 (bulk 1941-1984). A circa 1875 photograph of Bierstadt by Bierstadt Brothers given to the Archives by an unknown donor is available in the Archives of American Art's Photographs of Artists Collection I and online.

How the Collection was Processed

Portions of the collection were microfilmed as separate collections on reels D8 and 2787. Other letters were not microfilmed but maintained as separate manuscript collections. All of the related letters by Bierstadt were compiled as one collection and described by Stephanie Ashley in 2007 and digitized in 2008 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via the Archives of American Art website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Albert Bierstadt letter collecton is owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The letters were digitized in 2008 and are available online via the Archives of American Art's website.

How to Cite this Collection

Albert Bierstadt letter collection, 1860-1900. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Albert Bierstadt Letters, 1860-1900
(Box 1; 1 folder)

In these 13 unrelated letters written by renowned Hudson River School landscape painter Albert Bierstadt between 1860 and 1900, Bierstadt writes specifically of his work in several of the letters and refers to two paintings, Laramie Peak and The Jungfrau. He writes of the inspiration he finds in nature through his love of the mountains. Bierstadt invites friends to his studio in New York City, mentions a trip to Yosemite in the 1870s and writes letters of introduction on behalf of friends. Two of the letters concern commissions and discuss financial matters.

Letters are arranged chronologically.

Box Folder
1 (pam) 1 Letter To Mrs. Parsons, 1860, January 20
Concerns purchasing color and beginning to paint Laramie Peak.
1 (pam) 2 Letter To Professor Whitney, 1873, June 12
Concerns Whitney's being replaced on an irrigation committee by Mr. King. Bierstadt mentions that he is going to Yosemite and invites Whitney to join him.
1 (pam) 3 Letter to Unidentified Person, circa 1880s
Bierstadt sends an invitation to a meeting at his Tenth Street studio.
1 (pam) 4 Letter To Mr. Coffin, circa 1880s, June 14
Inquiry written on behalf of a "quite destitute" artist, John Irving, and his family, asking Coffin if he knows of a furnished apartment available for the family.
1 (pam) 5 Letter To Mr. Rives, 1880, June 16
(includes transcript)
Bierstadt writes from New York City, describing the opportunities available to art students in the city.
1 (pam) 6 Letter To Bierstadt's Sister, 1884, December 1
Concerns a commission.
1 (pam) 7 Letter To Mrs. Ely, 1887, April 8
Bierstadt invites her brother, and any of her friends, to visit him at his studio.
1 (pam) 8 Letter To Mr. Stedman, 1887, November 20
(includes transcript)
Letter conveys the the gift of a fragment salvaged when breaking up a piece of quartz that suggested to Bierstadt "a scarf pin for some good fellow." Bierstadt writes to Stedman of the "glorious old mountains which have given me so much happiness" from which such a fragment came.
1 (pam) 9 Letter To Mr. Jules Lévita, 1887, December 23
Bierstadt introduces David Wallace.
1 (pam) 10 Letter to Unidentified Person, 1888, June 28
(handwritten copy)
Discusses commissions that may result from the fact that Bierstadt has "spent much time and money on the matters referred to in your letter."
1 (pam) 11 Letter To Mr. Adams, 1892, October 6
Bierstadt states that he is happy to show Mr. Adams's friend "the new motor."
1 (pam) 12 Letter To Mr. Cooke, 1893, March 7
Discusses financial matters.
1 (pam) 13 Letter To General Miles, 1900, January 6
(photocopy)
Bierstadt informs General Miles that he is sending a small painting of a Swiss landscape, The Jungfrau, as a gift for the General's daughter on the occasion of her marriage.