Albert Bierstadt almost closed the year 2013 without hitting the million-dollar mark.
Then, in December, both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York sold Bierstadt oils that crossed the barrier: 1898’s Rocky Mountain Waterfall, hammering in at Christie’s for $1.1 million, and 1867’s Lake in the Sierra Nevada, at Sotheby’s, for $1.875 million. Christie’s still holds the auction record for a Bierstadt artwork, at $6.345 million, for the 1862 oil Indians Spear Fishing.
The year’s top Bierstadt lot was inspired by the artist’s painting excursion, undertaken 150 years ago, traveling to the largely undocumented territories of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite Falls. Although we don’t know which lake is portrayed here, Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote of the crew’s experience of Lake Tahoe during that 1863 expedition: “Just across the boundary, we sat down on the brink of glorious Lake Tahoe…. Geography has no superior to this glorious sea…. Here, virtually at the end of our overland journey, since our feet pressed the green borders of the Golden State, we sat down to rest, feeling that one short hour, one little league, had translated us out of the infernal world into heaven.”
With the dawn of a new day suffusing the lake and its surrounding peaks, Bierstadt’s light-filled landscape does evoke the sense of a truly sacred space. In addition to Bierstadt’s oils, both auctions gave collectors the opportunity to purchase paintings by notable Western artists. Featured here are the top artworks sold for the given artist at the auctions.