A painting by the noted 19th century artist Albert Bierstadt that has been hanging on campus for decades is now on display in the Denver Art Museum’s (DAM) Creating the West in Art exhibition, which runs through next spring. The undated painting, Yosemite, had gone uncataloged by scholars in the art world until Mines officials approached the museum.
Appraised for $1.7 million about five years ago, the painting was donated to the school in 1938 by a wealthy miner from Idaho Springs, Benjamin Briscoe. Wishing to see the painting properly preserved and enjoyed by a wider audience, the school contacted the DAM last winter, and their conservation staff agreed to work with Mines and the curators of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art to conserve the piece and prepare it for public viewing. Yosemite joined several other Bierstadt paintings in the exhibition, including a piece featuring Colorado’s Estes Park and another portraying a sunset over the Wind River.
A German-American painter who lived from 1830 to 1902, Bierstadt traveled extensively throughout the West and is one of the earliest European painters of the Western landscape. A romantic, he exercised a high degree of artistic license, altering light and color, warping perspective, and rearranging physical features. “An exact view down the Yosemite Valley does not exist quite like this,” said Thomas Smith, director of the Petrie Institute, indicating a fictitious waterfall and lake. “Bierstadt is trying to evoke the feeling or presence of the place, not a factual rendering.”
The museum put a lot of time into repairing Yosemite. “The picture had been restored in the past and damaged in the process,” said James Squires, associate curator of paintings, explaining that during the 50-hour process, DAM conservators slowly exposed the picture’s original surface, revealing a brighter, more dramatic sunset. Smith explains that the Petrie Institute, dedicated to helping people understand the Western experience through art, was pleased to help preserve the work for future generations.
The school is equally grateful: “We appreciate the Denver Art Museum for its efforts to help preserve this painting,” said President Scoggins. “The beauty of Bierstadt’s works should be enjoyed by more people, and we are very pleased that the museum is providing that venue.”