Historic Paintings of Rocky Mountain National Park

Historic Paintings of Rocky Mountain National Park

There are many reasons why the state of Colorado is so spectacular. One special gem for visitors and locals alike is Rocky Mountain National Park, only about 70 miles northwest of Denver. Dedicated in September 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates its centennial beginning this September in Estes Park, Colorado. To commemorate this momentous anniversary, the Denver Art Museum salutes all the artists who have visited the region and have documented its beauty.

Rocky Mountain National Park and its vicinity is a magical place with bountiful wildlife, sweeping vistas, spectacular peaks, and colorful valleys and streams. Its magnetism has attracted visitors from around the world for more than 100 years. Many have been artists, who were (and continue to be) drawn to the region to document its beauty. Two artists who did just that are Albert Bierstadt in his 1877 painting, Estes Park, Long's Peak, and Charles Partridge Adams in his 1900 painting, Moraine Park.

History behind a Bierstadt painting

Estes Park, Long's Peak by Albert Bierstadt was created as a commission by Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the fourth Earl of Dunraven of Ireland, and an original landowner of thousands of acres in and around Estes Park, many of which now make up a large portion of the park. Bierstadt was an academically trained artist and his paintings typically symbolized the discovery and exploration of the American wilderness. His painting Estes Park, Long's Peak, represents a romanticized style of landscape painting and bears exaggerated details characteristic of Bierstadt, such as the added height of Long’s Peak and the dramatic clouds.

Adams lived and painted in Colorado for decades

Twenty-five years later, another artist known for his Estes Park paintings, Charles Partridge Adams, created the painting Moraine Park. Whereas Bierstadt was an academically trained artist who only visited Colorado a few times, Adams was a mostly self-taught artist who traveled and lived in Colorado for more than 30 years. Adams’ work, Moraine Park, is based on the painting tradition of naturalism (or a realistic description) rather than exaggeration or romanticism.

Charles Partridge Adams, Moraine Park, About 1900. Denver Art Museum, Funds from various donors by exchange, 1996.8.

Adams was able to capture the light and atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains, a reflection of his direct and intimate knowledge of the landscape. Moraine Park is located within Rocky Mountain National Park and can be seen today as Adams depicted it. Adams was aware of Bierstadt’s depiction of Estes Park, Long's Peak, but it is unknown if Adams saw the work firsthand or what he thought of the painting.

Image credit for artwork at top of page: Albert Bierstadt, Estes Park, Longs Peak, 1877. Lent by the Denver Public Library, Western History Division.

Nicole A. Parks was the curatorial assistant in the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum.