The Rocky Mountains, final proof

Albert Bierstadt's (1830–1902) large painting, The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, completed in 1863, presented the drama of the American West to audiences in the Eastern United States. Although it was more than a decade after the Gold Rush drew settlers to California, most people still had not seen many images of the West. Bierstadt specialized in these landscapes, and he produced impressive paintings of Yosemite and other Western scenes.
The Rocky Mountains was Bierstadt's first big success, and he quickly developed a marketing strategy to promote his work. He contracted with engraver James Smillie (1807–1885) to produce a large black-and-white reproductive print. Then he sent the painting on tour, to be exhibited in art galleries in several eastern cities, accompanied by a subscription book and promotional flyers describing the engraving. It was available in four versions, from a limited number of artists' proofs priced at $50 each to an unlimited edition of plain proofs at $10 each. The painting was shown in 1864 at Civil War Sanitary Commission fairs in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, before being sold to an English businessman. Since 1907 it has been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Public exhibitions in commercial galleries, together with the growth of the print trade, expanded opportunities for people to see paintings and purchase reproductions. Throughout his career, Bierstadt issued prints after his paintings, using many different graphic processes. Publishing prints enhanced an artist's reputation and added significantly to his income, but engraving on steel was a slow and painstaking process. It took Smillie more than three years to complete his work.
In 1888 the Museum received this final state of the print directly from Bierstadt, and Smillie's son George donated an early etched proof. Both states were exhibited together to demonstrate the process of engraving.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
copyright holder
Bierstadt, Edward
Smillie, James
Bierstadt, Edward
original artist
Bierstadt, Albert
Bierstadt, Albert
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
image: 43 cm x 70.5 cm; 16 15/16 in x 27 3/4 in
overall: 71 cm x 95 cm; 27 15/16 in x 37 13/32 in
sheet: 59 cm x 83.5 cm; 23 7/32 in x 32 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Rocky Mountains
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Albert Bierstadt

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