OIL ON MASONITE EPITOMIZES MAGISTERIAL COLORADO SUBJECTS THAT CATAPULTED ARTIST TO NATIONAL ACCLAIM
Birger Sandzén’s The Mighty Peak, Longs Peak, Estes Park, Colorado, a study for The Great Peak (Longs Peak) held at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, epitomizes the magisterial Colorado subjects that catapulted him to national acclaim.
Weary of the sweltering summers in his Kansas hometown, the artist began traveling to Colorado in 1908, a tradition he continued for over 30 years. Colorado’s dramatic rocky terrain and expansive skies allowed Sandzén to master his Impressionistic technique of choppy and impastoed brushwork, graphic light-dark patterns and bold palette.
In July 1937, Sandzén traveled to Estes Park to paint Longs Peak, the tallest site in Rocky Mountain National Park and a popular tourist attraction, named after expedition leader Major Stephen H. Long of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of Sandzén’s Kansas City patrons, Ethel Greenough Holmes, encouraged him to capture the range from the viewpoint of Longs Peak Inn, focusing on the treacherously steep eastern face dubbed “The Diamond.”
During the next month, Sandzén completed in his Colorado studio three similar studies of Longs Peak for Holmes: one with an entire grove of pine trees; the present lot, with active, sweeping trees; and a third with three lone trees. “She purchased the last option and then commissioned him to paint a larger version, which she gifted to the Nelson-Atkins,” says Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions’ New York City-based Director of American Art.
At the reception for the presentation of The Great Peak (Longs Peak) to the museum in 1938, Sandzén met and enjoyed talking with fellow painter John Steuart Curry for the first time. Also attending the reception were Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, the other leaders of the Regionalist movement, who admired Sandzén’s work and his celebration of the American landscape.
The Mighty Peak, Longs Peak, Estes Park, Colorado, 1937, is expected to realize at least $30,000.
This article appears in the May 2021 digital edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine.