More on Bierstadt and Stereo Photographs

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A detail of the stereo photograph of Albert Bierstadt painting near Emerald Pool in 1859. The Dick Hamilton Collection, White Mountain History A detail of the stereo photograph of Albert Bierstadt painting near Emerald Pool in 1859. The Dick Hamilton Collection, White Mountain History



Historian Rick Russack wrote to us after reading the the April-May, 2012 issue of PleinAir and the “Classic Moments” feature with Eadweard Muybridge’s photograph of Albert Bierstadt painting in Yosemite Valley, California in 1872. “Several scholars believe Bierstadt was also photographed in stereo while painting in New Hampsire,” Russack revealed. We asked him to offer more information about the great plein air artist.

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The complete stereo photographs taken by John Soule of Boston, MA. The Dick Hamilton Collection, White Mountain History

Text by Rick Russack, a member of the Board of Directors of www.whitemountainhistory.org.

Long before Albert Bierstadt painted the western scenes that we associate with his name, he painted scenery in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And long before painting those western scenes he was using the stereo camera in the west, and possibly in the White Mountains. His brothers, Charles and Edward Bierstadt, had long careers as publishers of stereographs. Albert took some of the views published by his brothers.

In 1859, Albert and his brothers accompanied Colonel Frederick W. Lander, who was leading a United States government expedition to explore and document the Overland Trail, with the object of improving passage to the West through the Rocky Mountains. Lander’s official report of the expedition included a list of the “full corps of artists”. It included the three Bierstadt brothers and Francis Shedd Frost, a Boston artist. Charles and Edward returned to their home in New Bedford, Mass when the expedition reached the Prairie states leaving Albert and Frost to continue with Lander to the Wasatch Mountains. Albert returned home in November, 1859, and the first catalog of stereoscopic views published by the firm of Bierstadt Brothers in 1860 included about 50 stereographs taken by Albert on the expedition. These are amongst the rarest stereographs (the Kansas Historical Society owns five), and others may be in western institutions and fewer than 10 are in the primary private collection of Bierstadt Brothers stereographs. The firm’s 1865 catalog continued to list these views.

By 1861, Albert and his brothers were photographing in the White Mountains but it has yet to be established that Albert himself took any of the views. In January 1861, The Crayon, an early magazine devoted to photography, noted: “We call attention to a series of views taken in the White Mountains, published by the Bierstadt Brothers of New Bedford. The artistic taste of Mr. Albert Bierstdt, who selected the points of view, is apparent in them.” In 1862, the brothers published Views Among The Hills of New Hampshire, a slim volume containing 48 stereographs with a stereo viewer built into the cover. It’s likely that at least some of the views in this small book were those taken by the Brothers in 1861. (Less than a dozen copies of this book are known to exist.)

Albert’s first recorded visit to the White Mountains was in August 1852, when he signed the visitor’s register at the newly opened Summit House, atop Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. Biertstadt was in the White Mountains several times: 1852, 1858, 1860, 1861 and 1862. In 1861, Albert, with his two brothers and sister Eliza, registered at the Crawford House, in a particularly rugged area of the White Mountains.

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“The Emerald Pool,” by Albert Bierstadt, 1870, oil, 76.5 x 119. Collection the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA

On the 1862 visit, he stayed at the Glen House, at the foot of Mt. Washington, in Pinkham Notch. It’s likely that he was sketching in the neighborhood, for one of his major White Mountain paintings, The Emerald Pool. This rustic scene is just a short distance from the Glen House. The attached stereo view shows an artist at work at the Emerald Pool, along with a well-dressed woman seated on a rock nearby. The view captured by the photographer, John Soule of Boston, is almost identical to the scene captured by Bierstadt in his painting of the Emerald Pool. Soule’s catalog lists view #155 amongst a group of views taken in 1862. Although positive identification is not available, it’s likely that the artist at work in the stereo view is Albert Bierstadt, and the young woman is his sister Eliza.

Did Bierstadt use photographs when creating his monumental western scenes? That’s a subject for another writer. (But this writer would guess that he did.)


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