In 1863, Bierstadt prepared for a second trip west, during which he traveled as far as California and Oregon. After spending several weeks in California at Yosemite Valley, he went north to Oregon in September of 1863 and recorded his journey along the Oregon Trail by making sketches of pioneer life and the scenery around him, including many studies of Mount Hood. As before, he transformed many of these sketches into large canvases once home in New York. In January of 1864 one man reported that “the walls of Bierstadt’s studio were covered with the studies made by him during his recent visit to the wilds of California and Oregon.”
 Post, New York, 5 Feb. 1864
More information about this painting...
While a larger composition referencing the imagery in Men by a Campfire – Moonlight has not yet been located, one can surmise that it was likely painted during one of Bierstadt’s western tours and has a freshness reminiscent of his studies rendered on the spot. There is an underlying sense of atmosphere, owing to the artist’s thin application of paint in the cloudy sky and darkened trees; this quality, combined with the few passages of refined detail in the moon, its reflection, and in the figures and blazing fire, suggest the mysteries yet to be discovered in the expanse of the frontier. Bierstadt painted several compositions depicting campfires and moonlight; some, like this piece, retain the raw charm of his plein air interpretation while others have the polish and grandiosity found in his larger studio canvases. Although they rarely come on the market, examples can be found in museum collections, including the Yale University Museum of Art, the Mead Art Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Anschutz Collection at the American Museum of Western Art in Denver, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, and the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Collection of Frederick Pope
To Vose Galleries, Boston, inventory no. 1410, ca. 1904
(Vose ledger does not indicate to whom it sold or when; Robert C.
Vose may have purchased it for his private collection)
Eventually to private collection, Essex, Connecticut, by the 1960s
With Vose Galleries, Boston, inventory no. 21783, August 1965
Returned to private collection, Essex, Connecticut, September 1967
By inheritance to private collection. Mansfield, Ohio, 1993 to present
1). (in pencil, verso of board at upper left) 825
2). (in pencil, verso of board at lower center) From / Collection of Frederick Pope / (“) (“) Robert C. Vose 1904
Previous Vose Galleries label, inventory no. 21783