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Patricia Junker Albert Bierstadt: Puget Sound top top the Pacific coast Exh. Cat. Seattle: Seattle arts Museum in association v University that Washington Press, 2011. 72pp.; 52color ills. record $19.95 (9780295991245)
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In 1863, Hudson River college landscape artist Albert Bierstadt embarked on an expedition to California and also the Pacific Northwest. Influenced by the photographs the Carleton Watkins and accompanied by the journalist Fitz Hugh Ludlow, that chronicled the trip for the new York night Post and also the Atlantic Monthly, Bierstadt and also his companion spent an ext than a month in the Yosemite Valley prior to traveling by steamboat, horseback, wagon, and also rail right into the brand-new state that Oregon and through the Washington Territory. 7 years later, in his Manhattan studio, the artist produced a dramatic, massive painting that the western seaside scenery; the received vital praise as precise “portrait” (43) the Puget Sound. Yet Bierstadt had, in fact, never been there; while Puget Sound had actually been an intended destination of the 1863 trip, he and also Ludlow had actually turned around before reaching it. What that did paint, and how the skillfully shaped and also manipulated the an extremely terms that fact and fiction, landscape and history, are the topics of Patricia Junker’s slim however lavishly shown volume concentrated on Bierstadt’s canvas.

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In the mid-nineteenth century, the Pacific Northwest to be a foreign region to most Americans. To the average citizen, take trip was a challenge, logistically and also financially. As soon as Bierstadt left because that his visit, a brand-new portage railroad had actually just been constructed along sections of the Columbia River, and the Oregon heavy steam Navigation firm welcomed the artist on its ships together a guest. Nevertheless, wider access come the Pacific Northwest was minimal and regularly difficult. Visual representations of this new part of the nation thus offered as advertisements come potential settlers, investors, and also travelers, in addition to fulfilling the basic public’s desire to check out the country’s frontiers. Bierstadt’s paints were designed to have an emotionally appeal and to offer a sense of the history—both natural and human—of this American places. Structure on Junker’s argument, the pictures can thus be seen to invite two kinds that possession: perceptual and also economic. They listed the viewer with an opportunity to lay visual claim to these new landscapes if simultaneously producing an appetite for a an ext concrete kind of ownership—investment in this lands in order come capitalize on their potential.

Bierstadt also often contained scenes of aboriginal American life in his paintings, portraying the aboriginal Chinook human being returning indigenous a fishing trip with canoes and also baskets that salmon—a main resource of their livelihood—in Puget Sound on the Pacific coast (1870). Ludlow defined Native americans in art-historical terms because that an short article in the Atlantic Monthly, note the “attitudes the grace and power” memory of “the Apollo Belvedere or the Gladiator” (37). One marvels if Ludlow had actually in psychic Benjamin West’s well known (purported) exclamation upon see the Apollo Belvedere in Rome in 1760 that the sculpture resembled a young Mohawk warrior. Together aestheticizing rhetoric allows for a perhaps even an ext problematic mode of possession, in which indigenous Americans room stripped of coherent tribal distinctions and also specific social traditions and also transformed into unthreatening historic relics, comparable to ancient monuments that must be maintained by the white writer or artist. Back the Chinook human being lived in relative peace with settlers, the expectation in the United claims by the mid-nineteenth century was the the colonial procedure inevitably connected the extinction of the aboriginal population. Indian nations could be maintained through representation, if no reality.

Bierstadt’s canvases solve his audience’s taste for the unfamiliar while additionally engaging modern political concerns. The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s height (1863), completed in the midst of the polite War, offered as a memorial to a fallen Union officer, the young Frederick Lander. Views of Yosemite—filled with gold light, long and lush foregrounds, and also immense peaks—spoke come the desire that a country torn personally by problem to find a virginal place of possibility and also reconciliation. Puget Sound top top the Pacific coastline was not painted till years ~ the artist’s western voyage, however Junker argues that it, too, emerged from and also responded to modern events. The delay between the 1863 trip and the 1870 paint can because of this be understood as a intentional tactic—waiting because that the right moment when interest in the Northwest had actually increased yet not however peaked. In 1867, Watkins—whose photographs had guided Bierstadt with Yosemite—followed the painter’s path along the Columbia, creating the an initial photographs that the majestic river’s gorge. 2 years later, in 1869, the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed and also investors looked to new frontiers to broaden the nation’s transportation network. A survey of the path for the northern Pacific Railway—from the upper Mississippi to Puget Sound—was perfect in 1870, and stories started to show up in national publications around the area’s extraordinary beauty, pleasant climate, and abundant organic resources. As a an important gateway to the much East, the Pacific Northwest additionally held both commercial and strategic importance, facts absolutely not shed on the painting’s eventual owner, Abiel abduction Low, a brand-new York-based businessman that established lucrative trading relationships through China and Japan.

Puget Sound ~ above the Pacific coastline actually photos parts the the Columbia River, back it stays unclear even if it is Bierstadt deliberately omitted that information in his title or if he simply permitted others to speak to the canvas by an inaccurate name. However the location was not wholly disingenuous; “Puget Sound” worked as a share term because that the Pacific Northwest at the time. In the at an early stage twentieth century, after Bierstadt’s death, the canvas would be retitled The Storm, a have fun of the period’s attention in a an ext perceptual and also less referential mode of landscape painting. Gerald Carr rediscovered the original title, publishing it in his entrance on Bierstadt’s painting, The coast of the Turquoise Sea, in American paints from the Manoogian arsenal (Washington, DC: national Gallery the Art, 1989), however the odd disconnect in between the painting and Puget Sound’s topography has actually remained inexplicable until Junker’s study. Although defined by a nineteenth-century critic as a “portrait of the place” (43), Puget Sound top top the Pacific coastline is more an evocation that a region, no geographically details but a synthetic of observations and speculations.

Such a mix could characterize much of nineteenth-century American see painting, but it to be Bierstadt that was celebrated and criticized—more than any other artist the this period—for blurring the boundaries between fact and also fiction. Top top the one hand, the artist to be an explorer, maybe to justification the veracity the his painted topics by virtue of having actually been to (or near) the areas he depicted and also having suffered the unpleasant consequences of such frontier take trip (as report to the general public by Ludlow). Junker has very closely researched and also documented Bierstadt’s journey, revealing one itinerary the is much an ext extensive than formerly known. In seek the “fact” in Puget Sound, she considers what the artist actually saw as well as the publications he consulted and the artefacts he collected. The painter’s penchant because that the fictional is far better known—his too-tall, too-steep mountains; his composite technique; his interest in theater; his “great picture” exhibitions through their stagecraft, mass-appeal, and also impressive profits.

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But is that ultimately useful to think about Bierstadt’s functions as expressing a binary in between fact and fiction, one that calls for “sorting out what is the literal meaning truth” (22)? return Junker says that “separating fact from fiction is a tiny point” (22), she nevertheless spends lot of the publishing doing just that, considering, among other things, the places Bierstadt was actually referencing, the aboriginal American objects he owned and incorporated, and the texts and images he supplied to produce his dramatic naval scene. However one marvels if the really (large) allude of Bierstadt’s work—and the reason for the success the his enterprise—is the he refuse to acknowledge such a binary at all. In paintings such together Puget Sound top top the Pacific Coast, indigenous life, vertiginous cliffs, and also rough seas space smoothly transformed into an unproblematic vision, an translate of a people and a ar that however denies the viewer any kind of interpretive agency. Bierstadt’s canvases it seems ~ resolutely unconcerned with the concerns of facticity the preoccupied his own critics and also continue to straight scholarship.

Junker’s book engagingly and also skillfully supplies a single painting to tell a compelling story about an artist’s travels, his sources and techniques, his critics, and his shrewd very nice one to famous taste. Rather than work as simply a landscape, the painting, Junker convincingly argues, must be seen as a work-related of history, one invest both in modern-day events and in the depiction of aboriginal American life. The larger questions the remain, and that seem worthy the a much longer study, room why doubters at the moment were for this reason tenaciously invested in specify name what to be “objective,” “factual,” “truthful,” or “authentic” in see paintings and also how, simultaneously, Bierstadt’s photos make together distinctions it seems ~ curiously insignificant, as if their real issue was much more subjective: could a landscape be own and, if so, how might a canvas make such a claim?