Snite Museum of Art

Notre Dame, IN

(219) 631-5466


The Snite Acquires Bierstadt Landscape, American Portraits and Fairfield Porter Canvas


The Snite Museum of Art has received a generous gift, from noted collector of Western art William C. Foxley '57, of an important early painting by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) titled Bernese Alps, 1859.

Bierstadt was a member of a group of nineteenth-century American landscape painters known as the Hudson River School. Even though he painted few scenes of that area, he is best known for his heroic panoramic views of the American West following his first visit to the area about 1859.

Born in Soligen, Germany, Bierstadt's family emigrated to America when he was two. His early artistic training was with a daguerreotypist who produced theatrical representations of American scenery. This laid the foundation for his lifelong interests in photography and North American topography.

In 1854, Bierstadt attended Dusseldorf Art Academy for an intense, five-year apprenticeship in landscape painting. The school was highly respected and greatly influenced the style of many Americans who studied there.

Bernese Alps was painted upon Bierstadt's return to America. The work was based on earlier field studies made in July of 1857 while traveling through the Alps to Italy. Compared with his scenes of the American West, this work is the product of a youthful artist still adhering to tradition.

The painting depicts an idyllic landscape which captures the grandeur of the setling. Bierstadt uses gradations of light and atmosphere to create a gradual transition from foreground to background. He also uses compositional devices, such as the lake meandering into the background, to pull the viewer's eye toward the distant mountain ranges. This work was one of Bierstadt's most ambitious to that time, and his majestic panoramic view became a hallmark of his mature style.

The work adds depth to the Museum's collection of nineteenth-century landscape paintings by Asher Durand, Frederic Edwin Church, John Frederick Kensett and Alezander Helwig Wyant.


With the enthusiastic support and advice of Advisoy Council members Mr. and Mrs. Ed Abrams, the Snite acquired two outstanding examples of American portraiture. The earliest is by the prominent American artist John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840). Establishing himself in New York in the early 1800s, Jarvis quickly became one of the most noteworthy and successful American painters of the first quarter of the 19th century. His sitters included many of this country's most illustrious writers, statesmen, and heroes.

Signed and datable to about 1815, this imposing portrait shows the freshness and vitality of some of Jarvis`s best works. In its spare yet dashing manner, this portrait effectively illustrates aspects of both the neo-classical and romantic styles in American art. While the identity of the sitter has not been determined, the portrait bears a remarkable resemblance to what is thought to be a self-portrait that the artist included in one of his other paintings.

The second painting is an especially fascinating self-portrait by the artist Abbot Handerson Thayer (1849-1921). By 1875, Thayer was in Paris studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with some of the most distinguished masters of the French academic style. He soon began producing accomplished landscapes and portraits that were exhibited at the Salon. After several trips to Italy, which allowed him to study Renaissance painting, Thayer's mature style evolved into allegorical or symbolic composirions featuring women, often meant to espress concepts such as virtue, morality, and the sacred.

The Snite's enigmatic self-portrait is a variant of the artist's 1898 painting, which he presented to the National Academy of Design. Other self-portraits are in The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Corcoran Gallery, and The National Portrait Gallery.


The Snite Museum has received the gift of Fairfield Porter's 1954 painting, Breakfast in Maine, from his estate. This painting fills a major gap. Until now this significant 20th-century artist was represented in the Museum's collections by a single drawing.

Widely recognized as one of the most original and talented American artists painting at mid-century in a realistic style, Porter's works have remained consistently sought after and admired. The artist's skill in balancing European and American traditions, as well as modernist and naturalist styles, has accorded him a unique position in American art. In 1994, the museum proudly served as one of five American institutions to host a major retrospective, organized by the Parrish Art Museum, of Fairfield Porter's paintings.

Breakfast in Mnine is an early but representative example of Porter's art. A portrait of the artist's wife Anne dominates one side of the compostion, which also makes apparent Porter's obvious talents as a painter of still life and landscape. The palette, with its varied combinations of hot, cool, and muted tones, shows Porter's very particular use of color, as well as his sensitive understanding of the special quality of New England light. The artist's cypically loose and distinctive brushwork, which often seems so close to the painterly qualities of his Abstract Expressionist colleagues, is also intriguingly evident here.

From top to bottom: Albert Bierstadt, Bernese Alps, 1859, oil on canvas, 42 x 72 inches, Gift of Mr. William C. Foxley, Class of 1957; John Wesley Jarvis, Portrait of a Man, c. 1815-20, oil on canvas, 36 x 30.75 inches, Purchased with funds provided by the Abrams Family Endowment; Abbott Henderson Thayer, Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 30.25 x 25.125 inches, Purchased with funds provided by the Abrams Family Endowment; Fairfield Porter, Breakfast in Maine, 1954, oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 35 3/16 inches, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter.

Additional resource: Selections from The Fairfield Porter Papers

Rev. 4/28/01

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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