Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Albert Bierstadt ~ Mount Hood and Randy Gragg

This December seems to be the month for Albert Bierstadt's Mount Hood (located on the second floor of the Portland Art Museum in the American Galleries). It's not only been the focus of this week's edition of Fifty Two Pieces and Arcy Douglass' Artist Talk at the Portland Art Museum on December 10 but also central to Randy Gragg's post on the Portland Monthly website. I'm including the last part of that post to end this week. I don't think anyone expresses the positives of Bierstadt's Mt. Hood and its importance to Portland better than Mr. Gragg.
Given Portland’s location 80 miles inland, the Columbia River our only connection to the larger world, it’s not surprising that the most dominant feature of the landscape—Mount Hood—became the city’s focus: we the congregation, the volcano the altar.

Maybe painter Albert Bierstadt sensed Portland’s possibilities when he painted Hood in 1869. One of the mid-19th century’s most famous and flamboyant artists, Bierstadt took home world-record sums for his paintings and even charged admission to his shows. Though he never made an accurate painting in his life, preferring instead to collage together bits and pieces of the best landscapes he saw on journeys across the West, he played it pretty straight in his single portrait of Mount Hood. He painted the perspective of the volcano that Portlanders now know and love, but swapped out the dumpy little village then nicknamed “Stumptown” for the Columbia River and Multnomah Falls.

Bierstadt’s painting debuted at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 before being shipped to his London studio. While on a visit to London soon afterward, Simeon and Amanda Reed—the future founders of Reed College—bought the piece and packed it back home. It eventually landed at the Portland Art Museum in 1953, where it now hangs on permanent view.

Were Bierstadt standing today at the spot where he made his sketches, it’s easy to imagine that this time, dazzled by the way Portland’s skyline sparkles in the green and so politely bows at midpoint to gracefully vignette our mountain, he might just leave the city in.

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