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Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
The German-American artist Albert Bierstadt was famous for his large-size landscape painting of Western American wilderness scenery. His subjects included American national parks, scenic reserves, lakes, glaciers and wild animals. Along with Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Bierstadt was a well-known figure in the 19th-century Hudson River School of Romantic view-painters, and - together with Missouri man George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) and others - a member of the later style known as Luminism. In addition, he was a member of the Rocky Mountain School of painters, who specialized in grandiose mountain scenery. His pictures were highly popular during his time, and sold for huge sums. Bierstadt later returned to Europe to study and develop his drawing and painting techniques, but it was in his adopted country of America that he found his true inspiration - the frontier landscapes of the Wild West. Works by Bierstadt can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His most famous paintings include The Rocky Mountains (1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Domes of Yosemite (1867, St Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, Vermont).
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On arrival in Germany, Bierstadt sought out the acquaintance of two fellow American painters, Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910) and Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-68). He hoped they would convince Achenbach to take him on as a student. However, Bierstadt's works were judged to be of such low quality, that the expats told him that Achenbach did not take on students. Undeterred, Bierstadt remained in Europe for four years, devoting himself to the study of his art, travelling to many places including Italy and France.
Discovering American Landscape
Back in cosmopolitan New York, Bierstadt's
fame began to grow when his Rocky Mountains was displayed opposite
a work by the highly respected landscape artist Frederic
Edwin Church (1826-1900) at the 1864 New York Sanitary Fair. It led
the art critic James Jackson Jarves to state that Bierstadt's painting
displayed an unsurpassed rendition of American light. A decade of success
followed, during which his painting Rocky Mountains sold for $25,000 -
as also did his Domes of Yosemite (1867, St Johnsbury Athenaeum,
St. Johnsbury, Vermont).
Unfortunately, during the 1870s, grandiose
landscapes fell out of favour in America - cf. the Tonalist landscape
painting of George Inness - and Bierstadt's
star began to fade among fellow artists and art critics. His work for
the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial was not well received. Then, his painting
Last of the Buffalo (c.1889, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington
DC) was rejected for the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. Despite this,
his paintings continued to find popularity with sectors of the public,
still fetching high prices. During the 1870s Bierstadt spent time in the
Bahamas sketching, primarily for the improvement of his wife's declining
health. His wife died in 1893 and the following year he promptly married
a wealthy widow. Despite his success and new bride, Bierstadt's extravagant
lifestyle led him into debt. In 1895 his entire property and assets, including
150 paintings, were sold to satisfy his creditors. He died suddenly in