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In 1872, painter Albert Bierstadt finished "View From Donner Lake, California," which encompassed the mile-high waters of the Sierra Nevada with the sinewy wagon trails and the muscular, ramrod-straight tracks of the newly built transcontinental railroad.

But a funny thing happened in a different Bierstadt painting finished a year later. In "Donner Lake From the Summit," a celebrated 10-foot-wide oil-on-canvas commissioned by Collis P. Huntington, the wagon trail practically disappears. The railroad tracks are barely there too, at first glance possibly mistaken for a fallen tree. The emphasis is all warm sun, fluffy clouds and glorious terrain, untouched by man.

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