Albert Bierstadt and 19th-Century American Art || Corcoran and Cody: The Two Versions of "The Last of the Buffalo"

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  • Maney Publishing

    Corcoran and Cody: The Two Versions of "The Last of the Buffalo"Author(s): Dare Myers Hartwell and Helen Mar ParkinSource: Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 38, No. 1, Albert Bierstadtand 19th-Century American Art (Spring, 1999), pp. 45-54Published by: Maney Publishing on behalf of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic &Artistic WorksStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3179837 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 00:27

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  • CORCORAN AND CODY: THE TWO VERSIONS OF THE LAST OF THE BUFFALO

    DARE MYERS HARTWELL AND HELEN MAR PARKIN

    ABSTRACT--Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) paint- ed two versions of The Last of the Buffalo: a large one in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washing- ton, D.C., and a somewhat smaller version in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. The two paintings are similar but not identical in construction, palette, and design. In the Cody painting, the same compositional elements are smaller, and the internal space is compressed. Both paintings contain many of the same design changes and pentimenti, indicating that one is not a copy of the other. The authors use contem- poraneous evidence to formulate a hypothesis as to why, and in what order, Bierstadt painted the two versions. Cross sections reveal a graphite-containing layer between the canvas and the ground in the Cody painting, tying this painting to others painted in the 1880s. Surface texture and condition of both paintings are dis- cussed in relation to materials used and previous treatments. Finally, the retexturing and inpaint- ing of a large, compositionally important area in the Cody painting are discussed in detail.

    TITRE-Corcoran et Cody: Deux versions du tableau The Last of the Buffalo. RESUME--Albert Bierstadt (1830-1920) cr6a deux versions du tableau The Last of the Buffalo (Le Dernier des Bisons): une toile de grande dimension main- tenant au Musee d'art Corcoran a Washington, D.C., et une autre de plus petit format dans la col- lection du Centre historique Buffalo Bill, a Cody au Wyoming. Les deux tableaux sont similaires, mais diff6rent par leur construction, palette et composition. Dans le tableau de Cody, les -l6- ments de composition sont de plus petites di- mensions et l'espace int6rieur reduit. Les deux tableaux comprennent plusieurs changements

    similaires dans leur composition et des repen- tirs, ce qui d6montre qu'ils ne sont pas des copies l'un de l'autre. En utilisant des preuves contem- poraines A l'artiste, les auteurs formulent une hypoth'se sur les raisons pour lesquelles et dans quel ordre chronologique les deux versions furent peintes par Bierstadt. Pour le tableau de Cody, des coupes transversales r velent une couche contenant du graphite entre la toile et la preparation, ce qui relie ce tableau a d'autres peints lors des ann es 1880. La texture de la sur- face et l'6tat des deux tableaux sont discut s, en ce qui a trait aux materiaux utilis6s et aux traite- ments de restauration antdrieurs. Enfin les re- touches et la texturation de la surface d'une sec- tion importante de la composition du tableau de Cody y sont aussi d6taill6es.

    TITULO--Corcoran y Cody: las dos versiones de "El iltimo de los buifalos". RESUMEN-Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) pint6 dos versiones de "El iltimo de los buifalos" (The Last of the Buffalo), una de gran tamai-o que esta en la Galeria de Arte Corcoran en Washington D.C., y una ver- si6n m~s pequefia que esta en el Centro Hist6ri- co de Buffalo Bill en Cody, Wyoming. Las dos pinturas son similares pero no id6nticas en su construcci6n, paleta y disefio. En la pintura de Cody, los mismos elementos de la composici6n son m~s pequefios y el espacio interno esta com- primido. Ambas pinturas contienen muchos de los mismos cambios de disefio y pentimentos, in- dicando que una no es una copia de la otra. Los autores usan evidencia contemporanea para for- mular una hip6tesis con respecto al porque y en que orden, Bierstadt pint6 las dos versiones. Los cortes estratigraficos revelaron la presencia de una capa que contiene grafito entre el lienzo y la

    JAIC 38 (1999):45-54

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  • 46 DARE MYERS HARTWELL AND HELEN MAR PARKIN

    Fig. 1. Albert Bierstadt, The Last of the Buffalo, 1888, oil on canvas. 152.8 x 245.2 cm (60 1/4 x 96 1/2 in.). Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, acc. no. 2.60

    capa de preparaci6n en la pintura de Cody, conectando esta pintura con otras pintadas alrededor de 1880. La textura de la superficie y el estado de ambas pinturas se discuten en relaci6n a los materiales utilizados y tratamientos previos. Finalmente se discute en detalle el retexturado y la compensaci6n por perdida de un area grande y composicional- mente importante en la pintura de Cody.

    I. INTRODUCTION

    In 1888, in preparation for the Paris Exposi- tion the following year, Albert Bierstadt

    (1830-1902) began work on the last of his large Western showpieces and his most important late painting, The Last of the Buffalo. Probably because by this date Bierstadt's work was con- sidered passe, the painting was rejected by the American selection committee for the exposi- tion, causing a minor sensation in the press and much pain to the artist. Bierstadt subse-

    quently sent the painting to the exposition on his own, which he was entitled to do as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (Hendricks 1988). Today, of course, the painting is one of the icons of American art and among the most treasured holdings of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (fig. 1).

    For many years the Corcoran painting was considered to be the only version of The Last of the Buffalo, but about 1955 another was found in England and brought to the United States by a dealer (Nicholson 1956). The second painting eventually entered the collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming (fig. 2). By coincidence, both works underwent con- servation treatment in 1984-85, precipitating this investigation into the relationship of the two paintings. The Corcoran painting was treated by the museum's conservator, Dare Myers Hartwell; the Cody painting was treat- ed by Perry Huston and Helen Mar Parkin of

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  • CORCORAN AND CODY: THE TWO VERSIONS OF THE LAST OF THE BUFFALO

    Fig. 2. Albert Bierstadt, The Last of the Buffalo, 1888, oil on canvas. 180.5 x 301.5 cm (71 1/8 x 118 3/4 in.). Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of Mary (Mrs. Albert) Bierstadt, 1909, acc. no. 9.12

    Perry C. Huston and Associates, Inc., Fort Worth, Texas.

    2. ANALYSIS

    Both paintings are executed in an oil-based paint on medium-weight, tabby weave linen canvas and are remarkably similar in appearance. How- ever, the Corcoran painting is 11 1/8 in. taller (28.2 cm) and 22 1/4 in. wider (56.5 cm) than the

    Cody version. The Corcoran painting had been lined twice prior to 1984 and was not mounted on its original stretcher. Nevertheless, its tacking margins indicate that within approximately one-

    quarter inch these are the original dimensions. The dimensions of the Cody painting represent those of the stretcher added during a restoration undertaken about 1955, just prior to its sale. The dealer had the painting lined and mounted on a new stretcher because he considered the original panel-back stretcher, a type often used by Bier- stadt, too heavy (Nicholson 1956). The tacking margins have been irregularly cut off and part of the farthest antelope to the left is missing, sug- gesting that more has been cut off along the left than along the other sides. Nevertheless, a com-

    parison of the two compositions indicates that

    the Cody version is substantially complete, and the difference in size cannot be accounted for by the painting's having been cut down.

    Instead, because of its smaller size the Cody painting is slightly reduced in scale in relation to the Corcoran painting. Compositional elements are smaller, and the internal space is compressed. For example, the large standing buffalo at left is about 10% smaller in the Cody version. The com- pression of space is most apparent in details, such as the distance between the animals in the

    right foreground; in the Cody painting the buf- fal