The painter Albert Bierstadt produced some of the most Romantic landscape paintings in American history. His vast, sweeping landscapes (often depicting the American West) defined these locations for generations.
But who was Albert Bierstadt? This brief introduction explores famous Albert Bierstadt paintings, his Hudson River School art, and his intriguing personal life.
Albert Bierstadt hails from Solingen in the Rhine Province (Germany). Born on 7 January 1830, he didn’t spend his youth in Germany.
Bierstadt’s parents (Christina Tillmans and Henry Bierstadt) moved to Massachusetts, USA, when Bierstadt was one year old. They set up a home in New Bedford.
The boy displayed a precocious talent for art, creating several crayon sketches and developing a love of the subject.
Following this passion, Bierstadt traveled to his German homelands as a young man. From 1853, he studied painting in Düsseldorf.
On his return to America in 1857, Bierstadt taught drawing and painting. However, he soon tired of teaching and devoted his time exclusively to oil painting.
Hudson River School art refers to a group of artists working in the mid-nineteenth century.
Strongly influenced by Romanticism, their paintings often depicted the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding landscape. In addition, these works (Bierstadt included) featured glowing natural light linked with the Luminism movement.
Bierstadt started painting views of Upstate New York (and the Hudson River Valley) in the late 1850s and 1860s. As part of this movement, he met artists such as Thomas Cole and Thomas Moran. They similarly painted sweeping panoramic views of American landscapes.
Bierstadt’s painterly style was incredibly detailed and precise. He often started oil paintings with pencil sketches, multiple oil studies, and reference photographs.
Art Historians sometimes describe Albert Bierstadt paintings as “portraiture” for the landscape genre. Indeed, Bierstadt’s landscapes are always faithful to reality but keep an element of idealism and beauty.
As well as depictions of the Hudson River Valley, Bierstadt painted as part of the Rocky Mountain School. His Rocky Mountain paintings include Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie (1866), and Evening Glow, Lake Louise.
Albert Bierstadt is best known for his expansive, panoramic views of American landscapes.
In 1859, the artist traveled westwards. Alongside the Land Surveyor Frederick W. Lander, Bierstadt soaked up inspiration. After returning from this trip, Bierstadt resumed painting in his New York Studio. He worked on sketches produced during these travels, creating some genuinely remarkable depictions of the Western American landscape.
Albert Bierstadt paintings often featured the great American National Parks, Native American reserves, wild animals, and serene lakes.
By 1863, Bierstadt yearned for more adventure. So he traveled westwards again, this time with Fritz Hugh Ludlow (Bierstadt later married Ludlow’s partner, Rosalie). Together, the men spent time in Yosemite Valley.
This trip proved a turning point in Bierstadt’s career. These awe-inspiring landscapes inspired some of his most famous works, such as Looking up the Yosemite Valley, Merced River Yosemite, and Yosemite Valley Glacier Point Trail.
Today, Albert Bierstadt's Yosemite Valley paintings embody and define this beautiful national park. In addition, these paintings established Bierstadt’s reputation for beautiful Romantic images created with extreme technical skill.
As a result, several explorers requested Bierstadt join them on later westward exhibitions. The Santa Fe Railroad also commissioned Bierstadt to paint the Grand Canyon and the surrounding Arizona landscape.
Art Historians don’t know exactly how many paintings Bierstadt created. Estimates range anywhere from 500 artworks to over 4,000 drawings and paintings.
As well as his depictions of Yosemite Valley, Bierstadt also created several legendary paintings of the Sierra Nevada. These artworks include Sierra Nevada (1871) and Lake in the Sierra Nevada (1867).
Albert Bierstadt Among the Sierra Nevada (1868) is the best-known of these creations. Today, the painting appears in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Bierstadt returned to Europe in 1867. He visited London, where he exhibited two large landscape paintings for Queen Victoria. After this success, Bierstadt traveled through continental Europe, painting the landscape and setting up business and social contacts.
Intriguingly, Bierstadt painted Among the Sierra Nevada in his Rome studio.
Bierstadt’s paintings were particularly popular with European audiences. In an age of increasing emigration to the USA, they furthered narratives of America as a land where dreams come true.
Albert Bierstadt's paintings present profoundly influential views of the American West. They stand for American dreams of prosperity and exploration at a time of westward expansion and discovery.
Albert Bierstadt wasn’t the first person to paint these impressive landscapes. Even so, he brought extreme technical ability and artistic training to these beautiful settings.
Even during his lifetime, contemporaries criticized Bierstadt for over-romanticizing his landscape. In addition, his luminism appeared excessive to some, while others objected to Bierstadt’s inclusion of Native American people.
Bierstadt’s wife, Rosalie, suffered from tuberculosis in 1876. As a result, the couple traveled to the Bahamas, seeking warmer climates. Bierstadt lived on these islands until Rosalie’s death in 1893.
He kept painting, producing works such as After a Norther, Bahamas (c.1878). Bierstadt continued traveling for work, moving between the Bahamas, his New York Studio, Canada, and the Western United States.
A fire swept through Bierstadt’s New York studio in 1882, destroying many of his paintings.
Bierstadt died on 18 February 1902. Friends and family buried the artist at a New Bedford, Massachusetts, cemetery.
Due to his work falling out of critical favor, Bierstadt remained forgotten for most of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, Bierstadt’s art experienced a resurgence in recent years.
Many scholars note the importance of his landscapes in creating support and publicity for the American conservation movement. His depictions of Yellowstone (for instance, Yellowstone Falls) and Yosemite were also integral in the foundation of the Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.
Explore our extensive replica art collection if you love Albert Bierstadt’s stunningly romantic landscape painting. As well as Albert Bierstadt paintings, you’ll find leading Hudson River School artists such as Thomas Cole and Martin Johnson Heade.
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