Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) was a painter of sweeping landscapes of the American West. He joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion to paint the scenes.
Bierstadt was born in Prussia, but his family moved to the United States when he was 1. He returned to Europe 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.
Bierstadt was a critical interpreter of the western landscape, and he is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.
Virtual Tour of Albert Bierstadt
- The Falls of St. Anthony
- Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California
- The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak
- North Fork of the Platte Nebraska
- Alaskan Coastal Range
Highlights Tour of Albert Bierstadt
depicts the falls as they appeared before any human intervention and the introduction of the spillway. The natural falls were replaced by a concrete overflow spillway in 1869.
The composition shows in its foreground several Native Americans and a hatted figure with a walking stick speculated to be Louis Hennepin, discoverer of the falls.
Father Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollet order and an explorer of North America’s interior.
The Falls of Saint Anthony is northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River. In the 1950s and 1960s, a series of locks and dams were constructed to extend navigation upstream.
“Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California” by Albert Bierstadt depicts one of America’s most scenic views and was based on sketches made during a visit in 1863. It was the artist’s first large-scale Yosemite picture, a subject for which he would become well known.
Bierstadt painted the valley from a vantage point just above the Merced River, looking due west with the prospect framed by El Capitan on the right, and Sentinel Rock on the left; the spire of Middle Cathedral Rock is visible in the distance.
Today, Yosemite is famous for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, meadows, glaciers, and biological diversity.
Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for nearly 3,000 years. Vegetation and game in the region were similar to today; acorns were a staple to indigenous natives’ diet and other seeds and plants, salmon and deer.
“The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” by Albert Bierstadt is based on sketches made during Bierstadt’s travels in 1859. The painting shows Lander’s Peak in the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains, with an encampment of Native Americans in the foreground.
In the foreground of the painting, Bierstadt paints a band of Shoshone Native peoples. Bierstadt depicts the Shoshone people along with the majestic peaks. Bierstadt’s focus was on the relationship of the people with the landscape.
The Shoshone are a Native American tribe, which originated in the western Great Basin and spread north and east into present-day Idaho and Wyoming.
As more European-American settlers migrated west, tensions rose with the indigenous people over competition for territory and resources. Wars occurred throughout the second half of the 19th century.
Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West
“North Fork of the Platte Nebraska” by Albert Bierstadt reflected the idea of Manifest Destiny, where the west represented natural beauty, and the rivers served both obstacles and transportation routes to westward expansion.
The Platte River is a major river in the State of Nebraska. The Platte River is a tributary of the Missouri River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico.
Over most of its length, the Platte is a broad, shallow, meandering stream with a sandy bottom and many islands.
The river valley played an essential role in the westward expansion of the United States, providing the route for several major emigrant trails, including the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Bozeman trails.
“Alaskan Coastal Range” by Albert Bierstad is an oil-on-paper sketch that he made for further detailing. It was painted after traveling through British Columbia.
Bierstadt took a steamship to Alaska, searching for more rugged landscapes, and ended up shipwrecked in Loring, Alaska.
While sheltering in a nearby Native American settlement, he drew the sea’s shores and his Alaskan surroundings.
By the time of his death in 1902, the taste for epic landscape painting had subsided.
Hudson River School
The Hudson River School was a mid-1880s American art movement embodied by landscape painters influenced by Romanticism.
The paintings typically depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains.
Works by the second generation of artists associated with the school expanded to include other locales in New England, the Maritimes, the American West, and South America.
Hudson River School paintings reflect the themes of discovery, exploration, and settlement in America of the 19th century.
They depicted the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully.
Landscapes were characterized by their realistic but idealized portrayal of nature and wilderness, which was fast disappearing.
- Artist: Albert Bierstadt
- Born: 1830, Solingen, Rhine Province, Prussia
- Died: 1902 (aged 72), New York City
- Nationality: German- American
Albert Bierstadt’s Lavish Landscapes of The American West
Tour of American Artists You Should Know
- John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815)
- Benjamin West (1738 – 1820)
- Gilbert Stuart (1755 – 1828)
- John Trumbull (1756 – 1843)
- Edward Hicks (1780 – 1849)
- George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879)
- John Mix Stanley (1814 – 1872)
- Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816 – 1868)
- Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900)
- James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)
- Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
- Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926)
- Julian A. Scott (1846 – 1901)
- Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931)
- John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)
- Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935)
- Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909)
- William McGregor Paxton (1869 – 1941)
- George Bellows (1882 – 1925)
- Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)
- Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)
- Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978)
Albert Bierstadt – American Paintings
“The magnificent beauty of the natural world is a manifestation of the mysterious natural laws that will be forever obscured from us.”
– Albert Bierstadt
Photo Credit: 1) Albert Bierstadt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.