Albert Bierstadt was a German-American painter most famous for his large-scale landscapes of the American West. He made multiple journeys to the Colorado Rockies, Sierra Nevada mountains, and Yosemite, where he took photographs and made sketches of everything he observed.
Three Deer and a Stag (Monarch of the Plains) is a rare example of a Bierstadt oil painting in which animals he observed were the focal point rather than the landscape itself. In an essay about the artwork, scholar Melissa Webster Speidel notes that his earlier paintings often included animals, such as the unfinished drawing Study of a Ewe. In most paintings, however, animals were a subordinated aspect of the composition; especially so in the painting Buffalo Trail: The Impending Storm.
Though this artwork focuses on the stag and deer, the landscape remains a highly romanticized backdrop. The clouds are an ominous presence, interrupted only in the center of the canvas where a warm, glowing spotlight of sorts is cast down. This dramatic lighting is typical of Bierstadt’s canvases, and contributes to the sense of movement he was able to achieve, guiding the viewer’s eye to further focus in on the magnificent stag and deer.