Sarah Cash: The Last of the Buffalo came to our collection in the early 20th century as a gift of Bierstadt’s widow, but we do own several other great Bierstadt paintings. Among them, a painting that was painted in about 1877 that is on the cover of the American paintings catalog -- just published last year -- a painting that Bierstadt showed in New York under the title Mountain Lake. And one year later, immediately after Bierstadt and many others found out that the Corcoran Gallery of Art had acquired Frederic Church’s Niagara, Bierstadt decided in essence that he wanted a piece of that. He knew Mr. Corcoran was a wealthy collector, and so he sent the painting called Mountain Lake to Washington, and when it arrived at the doorstep of the Corcoran Gallery of Art -- then located at 17th and Pennsylvania in what’s now known as the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian -- the painting was no longer called Mountain Lake, it was called Mount Corcoran in a shameless and wonderfully 19th century transparent appeal by Bierstadt to Mr. Corcoran’s vanity. And Mr. Corcoran, of course was, I’m sure, thrilled and immediately wanted to add the painting to the collection. Well, when the curator of the Corcoran in the late 19th century said, “Well I don’t think there’s really a mountain named Mount Corcoran anywhere,” Bierstadt immediately produced a map from the War Department where he had gone to apply to have a mountain in the American West named Mount Corcoran, which you could do in those days -- kind of like naming a star today. And when the curator at the Corcoran looked at the map that Bierstadt presented, he looked at him and he said, “Hmm. This is a little suspect. It looks like the words 'Mount Corcoran' have been written in by hand.” And then he said, in classic 19th century prose, “This looks like sharp practice on the part of the artist.” And so although the curator and the board didn’t necessarily want to acquire Mount Corcoran, they saw what Bierstadt was doing. Mr. Corcoran, of course, was the person who wrote the checks for the acquisitions of both his own collection and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. And so the painting joined our collection and makes a wonderful counterpoint to Frederic Church’s Niagara, acquired right about the same time. The two, of course, were really arch rivals when it came to patrons and American landscape painting. Church painting primarily in the East, but also South America and the Middle East, and Bierstadt having made his name as the painter of the American West for all those armchair travelers who couldn’t necessarily go to the American West as Bierstadt had.
In this excerpt from the podcast, Cash explains how Bierstadt came to the Corcoran’s attention. [2:42]