Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Presents

For as long as I can remember, our parents have given each of us girls a bound first edition book for Christmas. It’s a tradition that feels completely right for our family. We’ve all six of us been brought up to value books the same way that some do earrings from Chanel or cocktail rings from Dior.  (Plus, books are a lot harder to lose than all those hideous Elsa Perreti necklaces from days of yore.)

This year I received the below series of letters by the landscape painter Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). The letters are addressed to Senator GD Edmunds of Vermont. In the letters Bierstadt compares his paintings to the senator's speeches.  

"Mine is a language composed of hieroglyphics of form and color appreciated by the intelligent few- while yours appeals to that class and also to the great mass of mankind."* He goes on to offer the senator one of one of his most recent works, the 'View in the Kings River Canon, California'.

A friend recently told me that Bierstadt made a habit of taming his paintings for his European audiences. Making his great mountainscapes less craggy, portraying his forested valleys as less dense. I love this idea: that the American west was so extraordinarily vast and expansive that our civilized counterparts across the Atlantic needed the truth obfuscated for them to even look at our reality.

*Bierstadt, not the most modest of dudes.

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