In 1870, Albert Bierstadt painted one of the most novel subjects of his career: Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. The canvas resulted from newly reawakened interest in a region the artist had visited only briefly seven years before. Although Bierstadt claimed to have painted "a portrait of the place," he had never actually made it to Puget Sound in 1863 and the painting has long been dismissed as another "superb vision of dreamland."
This book reveals the fact-within-the-fiction of Bierstadt's spectacular, eight-foot-wide view of Puget Sound. It follows his travels around the Washington Territory in 1863, travels that were far more extensive than previously known. It identifies the artist's source material in Northwest Coast native artifacts, early historical accounts of the region, and the sketches he made on the Columbia River and Washington and Vancouver Island coasts. It compels us to reconsider the function of the painting--to see it not as a landscape, but as a historical work, a narrative of an ancient maritime people, and a rumination, on the ages-old mountains, basaltic rocks, dense woods, glacial rivers, and surf-pounded shores that have given this region its look and also shaped its culture.