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Monday, June 5, 2017
Albert Bierstadt: Supreme Painter of the American West
Since it's Western month on Historical Romance Review, allow me to introduce you to one of my very favorite painters of the American West... Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School of American artists.
Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Albert Bierstadt was among the most internationally honored American artists of the nineteenth century, best known for his huge, panoramic landscapes that depicted the unsettled American West of the 1800s. He brought the West to the people and, I daresay, we are still falling in love with the romantic images he portrays.
Born in Solingen, Germany, he emigrated at age two to America with his parents and his two brothers. The family settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father became established as a barrel maker. Little is known of his early training. However, in his early 20’s, Bierstadt traveled back to Germany to study in Dusseldorf, returning a few years later to paint scenes of New England and the mountains of New York.
Although he had entered that period of formal training with only rudimentary capabilities, he emerged from it an ambitious, technically proficient master whose tastes for European scenery and society had been considerably enhanced in the process.
In search of ever more wild and dramatic vistas, Bierstadt took several journeys west, one of them on the wagon train sent to chart a path for the Transcontinental Railroad. He would return to a studio in New York, a studio with exceptionally high ceilings that would accommodate his enormous canvasses, and he would translate his sketches and small paintings into grandly dramatic scenes that proved to be tremendously popular.
In 1858, he joined the expedition of Colonel F. W. Landers to survey an overland wagon route to the Far West. This trip to the west including the territories of Colorado and Wyoming was to procure sketches for a series of large-scale landscape paintings of the American West. Back in New York, he painted a sequence of canvases that secured his reputation as a "Western" artist. He made two additional western journeys, one in 1863, the other from 1871 to 1873.
Bierstadt was part of the Hudson River School, a group of like-minded painters whose style involved carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. Bierstadt painted the West as one who loves its beauty. His paintings evoke romantic images and stir feelings in us even if we have lived our lives in the American West.