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In the panoramic Sierra Nevada, 1871, a family of three deer stands at the edge of clear blue-green waters. High above them are the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains. A cool palette imparts
a serene quality to the canvas and tempers any sense of danger in the sublime natural setting. Beneath the surface, the water reveals submerged limbs and rocks in the right mid-ground, as well as
reflections of the mountains and the waterfall at the center. Despite its horizontal orientation, the composition is overwhelmingly vertical. The vastness of the peaks is emphasized by the
interspersed clouds. The massive rocky forms dwarf the wildlife below, and the substantial waterfall appears small against the high rock face. Tightly rendered brushstrokes record minute details
throughout the composition, keeping the viewer fully engaged in the spectacular view.
In 1870s, because much of the continent remained still relatively unexplored at that time, Bierstadt's monumental renderings of stately mountains and cascading waterfalls created romantic visions of wanderlust in the minds of Easterners. His first public exhibition of these works in 1860 was a resounding success. Many critics deemed the viewing of his depictions as an almost "religious" experience, associating his mountain spires with majestic cathedrals, his luminous skies with the awesome power of God. As pointed out by Barbara Novak, Albert Bierstadt's works represent the attitude of the "transcendental mind," one in which"all matter was an extension of God."