American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: Albert Bierstadt, American, born Germany, 1830–1902

Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail

ca. 1873

Oil on canvas

54 x 84 3/4 in., 120 lb. (137.2 x 215.3 cm, 54.43 kg) framed: 68 15/16 x 99 7/8 x 6 1/2 in. (175.1 x 253.7 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Vincenzo Ardenghi

The whole continent, in short, seemed prepared to be the abode of a great nation, yet unborn.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Under a broad golden sky, a mountain guide at lower left points to the distance, instructing his companions where to look. The sun’s golden orb, thickly painted, sits like an ingot in the sky, a shining emblem of the land’s riches. Images of landscape and ideas of nation were deeply intertwined, helping to shape and articulate American identity in the mid-nineteenth century. These monumental panoramic views of the West, both literal and in paintings, promised Americans a golden future. Albert Bierstadt was the first American painter to capture fully the symbolic power of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Yosemite Valley. Ironically, his “untouched” landscapes were post-settlement spectacles, made after the completion of the transcontinental railway through the western frontier, which brought thousands of tourists to the West, such as those shown here.

19th century
On view

Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 301, 314–17, no. 201, ill.

“The Explainers,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2013): 53.

David Anfam et al., Seen and Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, eds. Jay A. Clarke and Joseph C. Thompson, exh. cat. (North Adams, Mass.: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 2015), 50, fig. 2.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.