|A.K.A.||Bierstadt, Albert, Bierstadt|
|From||Germany United States of America|
|Birth||7 January 1830, Solingen, Düsseldorf Government Region, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany|
|Death||18 February 1902, New York City, New York, USA (aged 72 years)|
Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. He joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion to paint the scenes. He was not the first artist to record the sites, but he was the foremost painter of them for the remainder of the 19th century.
Bierstadt was born in Prussia, but his family moved to the United States when he was one year old. He returned to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf. He became part of the second generation of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along the Hudson River. Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. Bierstadt was an important interpreter of the western landscape, and he is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.
Early life and education
Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany, the son of Christina M. (Tillmans) and Henry Bierstadt, a cooper. His brother was prominent photographer Edward Bierstadt. Albert was just a year old when his family immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1831. He made clever crayon sketches in his youth and developed a taste for art.
In 1851, Bierstadt began to paint in oils. He returned to Germany in 1853 and studied painting for several years in Düsseldorf with members of its informal school of painting. After returning to New Bedford in 1857, he taught drawing and painting briefly before devoting himself full-time to painting.
In 1858, Bierstadt exhibited a large painting of a Swiss landscape at the National Academy of Design, which gained him positive critical reception and honorary membership in the Academy. Bierstadt began painting scenes in New England and upstate New York, including in the Hudson River valley. He was part of a group of artists known as the Hudson River School.
In 1859, Bierstadt traveled westward in the company of Frederick W. Lander, a land surveyor for the U.S. government, to see those western American landscapes for his work. He returned to a studio he had taken at the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York with sketches for numerous paintings he then finished. In 1860, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design; he received medals in Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, and Germany.
In 1863, Bierstadt traveled West again, this time in the company of the author Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose wife he later married. The pair spent seven weeks in the Yosemite Valley. Throughout the 1860s, Bierstadt used studies from this trip as the source for large-scale paintings for exhibition and he continued to visit the American West throughout his career. The immense canvases he produced after his trips with Lander and Ludlow established him as the preeminent painter of the western American landscape. Bierstadt's technical proficiency, earned through his study of European landscape, was crucial to his success as a painter of the American West and accounted for his popularity in disseminating views of the Rocky Mountains to those who had not seen them.
During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), Bierstadt was drafted in 1863 and paid for a substitute to serve in his place. By 1862, he had completed one Civil War painting Guerrilla Warfare, Civil War based on his brief experiences with soldiers stationed at Camp Cameron in 1861. That painting was based on a stereoscopic photograph taken by his brother Edward Bierstadt, who operated a photography studio at Langley's Tavern in Virginia. The painting received a positive review when it was exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1861. Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey observed that the painting, created from photographs, "is quintessentially that of a voyeur, privy to the stories and unblemished by the violence and brutality of first-hand combat experience."
Financial recognition confirmed his status: The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, completed in 1863, was purchased for $25,000 in 1865, the equivalent of almost $400,000 in 2020.
In 1867, Bierstadt traveled to London, where he exhibited two landscape paintings in a private reception with Queen Victoria. He traveled through Europe for two years, cultivating social and business contacts to sustain the market for his work overseas. His exhibition pieces were brilliant images, which glorified the American West as a land of promise and "fueled European emigration". He painted Among the Sierra Nevada, California in his Rome studio for example, showed it in Berlin and London before shipping it to the U.S. As a result of the publicity generated by his Yosemite Valley paintings in 1868, Bierstadt's presence was requested by every explorer considering a westward expedition, and he was commissioned by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to visit the Grand Canyon for further subject matter.
Bierstadt's choice of grandiose subjects was matched by his entrepreneurial flair. His exhibitions of individual works were accompanied by promotion, ticket sales, and, in the words of one critic, a "vast machinery of advertisement and puffery."
Despite his popular success, Bierstadt was criticized by some contemporaries for the romanticism evident in his choices of subject and his use of light was felt to be excessive. Some critics objected to Bierstadt's paintings of Native Americans on the grounds that Indians "marred" the "impression of solitary grandeur."
In 1876, his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and from then until her death in 1893, Bierstadt spent time with her in the warmer climate of Nassau in the Bahamas. He also continued to travel to the West and Canada. In later life, Bierstadt's work fell increasingly out of critical favor. It was attacked for its theatrical tone.
In 1882, a fire destroyed Bierstadt's studio at Irvington, New York, and with it many of his paintings. By the time of his death on February 18, 1902, the taste for epic landscape painting had long since subsided. Bierstadt was then largely forgotten. He was buried at the Rural Cemetery in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Interest in Bierstadt's work was renewed in the 1960s with the exhibition of his small oil studies. Modern opinions of Bierstadt have been divided. Some critics have regarded his work as gaudy, oversized, extravagant champions of Manifest Destiny. Others have noted that his landscapes helped create support for the conservation movement and the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Subsequent reassessment of his work has placed it in a favorable context, as stated in 1987:
The temptation (to criticize him) should be steadfastly resisted. Bierstadt's theatrical art, fervent sociability, international outlook, and unquenchable personal energy reflected the epic expansion in every facet of western civilization during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Bierstadt was a prolific artist, having completed over 500 paintings during his lifetime.
- 1853 – Majesty of the Mountains
- 1855 – The Old Mill
- 1855 – The Portico of Octavia
- 1855 – Westphalia
- 1858 – Lake Lucerne, c. 1853, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- 1859 – The Wolf River, Kansas, c. 1859, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan
- 1861 – Echo Lake, Franconia Mountains, NH, Smith College Museum of Art, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
- 1863 – The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York
- 1864 – Cho-looke, the Yosemite Fall, oil on canvas, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California
- 1864 – Valley of the Yosemite, oil on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
- 1866 – Yosemite Valley, Oil on canvas on panel-back stretcher, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
- 1866 – On the Hudson River Near Irvington, 1866–70, oil on paper, Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
- 1866 – A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York
- 1868 – Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire, 1868, oil on canvas, Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
- 1868 – In the Sierras, Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- 1868 – Among the Sierra Nevada, California, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
- 1869 – Glen Ellis Falls, oil on canvas, Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, New Jersey
- 1870 - Sierra Nevada Morning, oil on canvas, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
- 1870 – Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, oil on canvas, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
- 1871 – Domes of Yosemite, c. 1871, St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, Vermont
- 1874 – Giant Redwood Trees of California, c. 1874, oil on canvas, Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
- 1875 – Mount Adams, Washington, 1875, oil on canvas, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey
- 1876 – Mount Corcoran, c. 1876–77, oil on canvas, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- 1888 – The Last of the Buffalo, oil on canvas, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- 1889 – Alaskan Coast Range, c. 1889, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
- 1891 – The Last of the Buffalo, c. 1891, vintage photogravure, Valley Fine Art Gallery, Aspen, Colorado
- 1895 – The Morteratsch Glacier Upper Engadine Valley – Pontresina
Roman Fish Market. Arch of Octavius. De Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Guerilla Warfare, Civil War by Albert Bierstadt, 1862, Century Association, New York, NY
Staubbach Falls, Near Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, 1865
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park, c. 1868, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California
Storm in the Mountains, c. 1870, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA
Mount Adams, Washington, 1875, Princeton University Art Museum
Mount Corcoran, c. 1876–77, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Gosnold at Cuttyhunk (c. 1858), New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA
The Marina Piccola, Capri (1859), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Indians Spear Fishing, 1862
The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak (1863), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California (1865), Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama
Lake Tahoe (1868), Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Sierra Nevada (c. 1871–1873), Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie (1866), Brooklyn Museum, New York
California Spring, 1875, De Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Light in the Forest, unknown date
Valley of the Yosemite, 1864, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Sunrise on the Matterhorn, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Estes Park, Long's Peak, 1877, Denver Art Museum (on loan from the Denver Public Library)
Emerald Sea (or The Shore of the Turquoise Sea), 1878, Manoogian Collection, Detroit, U.S.
Giant Redwood Trees of California, 1874, Berkshire Museum, Massachusetts, United States.
Legacy and honors
- Because of Bierstadt's interest in mountain landscapes, Mount Bierstadt and Bierstadt Lake in Colorado are named in his honor. Bierstadt was probably the first European to visit the summit of Mount Evans in 1863, 1.5 miles from Mount Bierstadt. Bierstadt named it Mount Rosa, a reference to both Monte Rosa above Zermatt and, Rosalie Ludlow, his future wife, but the name was changed from Rosalie to Evans in 1895 in honor of Colorado governor John Evans.
- In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a set of 20 commemorative stamps entitled "Four Centuries of American Art", one of which featured Albert Bierstadt's The Last of the Buffalo. In 2008, the USPS issued a commemorative stamp in its "American Treasures" series featuring Bierstadt's 1864 painting Valley of the Yosemite.
- William Bliss Baker, another landscape artist, studied under Bierstadt.