American, b. Germany, 1830–1902
Mount Sir Donald, Asulkan Glacier, c. 1890
Oil on canvas, 39 x 31 5/8 in. (99.06 x 78.74 cm)
The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California
Albert Bierstadt, one of the most celebrated painters of the American West, collaborated with surveyors and railroad executives in order to document the virgin landscape. He painted Mount Sir Donald, almost 11,000 feet (3,352 m) in elevation, during a junket with the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1889.
Although Bierstadt used an amalgam of different views to create this composition, he portrayed the mountain with complete accuracy. The peak rises majestically in Canada’s Glacier National Park, which was established in 1866, the same year that the transcontinental railway was completed.
Like many nineteenth-century American landscape painters, Bierstadt juggled a reverence for wilderness with its promise of wealth through the exploitation of natural resources. His career was wedded to Manifest Destiny, America’s mid-century obsession with continental expansion that devastated native peoples and landscapes.
Bierstadt contributed to the country’s march across the continent through his participation in government expeditions, such as Colonel Frederick Landers’ survey of the Nebraska Territory. The artist was also patronized by railroad executives, who capitalized on the popular allure of alpine scenery by establishing hotels along their transportation routes through the Rockies.
To study and sketch Mount Sir Donald, Bierstadt stayed at Glacier House, the official railroad lodge. He offered a larger version of this painting to the mountain’s namesake, Sir Donald Smith, the entrepreneur of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The sale was never make, and the larger work currently belongs to the New Bedford Free Library in Massachusetts.