Summary of Albert Bierstadt
Although taken to task by critics in his later years for being excessive and unrefined, Bierstadt is today widely considered one of America's greatest landscape artists; a man whose paintings offer a unique picture of American natural history during the second half of the nineteenth century. Produced from photographs and sketches, he made epic panoramas of the untamed American West that proved immensely popular with the American public. Vast in scale, and overwhelming in their emotional impact, he applied color for romantic rather than naturalistic effect. Strongly influenced by his tours of Europe, his paintings promoted the idea of conservation, culminating in the establishment of new National Parks, while at the same time highlighting the plight of Native Americans and the threat of extinction to the buffalo.
- Bierstadt is linked to the second-generation of Hudson River School painters. Like his contemporaries Frederic Church and Thomas Moran, Bierstadt gained renown for his willingness to trek vast distances, often over dangerous rugged terrain, in search of the most spectacular scenery. Taking his stylistic lead from the Düsseldorf School of landscapists, and inspired thematically by his own tour of Alpine regions of Switzerland and Italy, he produced a romanticized and finely detailed version of the American West which he composed from a choice of his own sketches and photographs.
- Although it is associated chiefly with paintings on a somewhat less grandiose scale, Bierstadt was nevertheless seen as a pioneer of the style that would become known as Luminism. It was a term used to describe landscapes with lustrous lighting effects that promoted a sense of contemplation and tranquility in the viewer. Indeed, Luminism was seen as a transcendental experience that could only be achieved by immersing oneself in the wonders of nature.
- Arguably Bierstadt's most famous painting, Domes of Yosemite (1867), helped promote what was to become perhaps America's most cherished natural wonder: the mountain peaks of the Yosemite Valley. The Art Institute of Chicago described how Bierstadt had "enhanced the natural scene by narrowing the valley and dramatically accentuating the heights of the mountains" in a way that invoked the "gothic architecture and the soaring heights of a medieval cathedral's central nave". Such was the success of this painting that in 1882 a viewing platform was installed at the same vantage point from where Bierstadt initially composed his scene.
- Towards the end of his career, Bierstadt complemented his American and European works, with a series of "tropical" landscapes which he composed while staying in the Bahamas. Moving away from his Luminist technique, his Bahamian works showed the artist in a more expressive state of mind. These land and seascapes used bolder, more brilliant, colors and were concerned, not so much with the sublime presence of nature, but rather the lives and daily activities of local inhabitants.
Biography of Albert Bierstadt
Bierstadt belongs to that group of artists for whom nature was to be treated as a sublime force, "The magnificent beauty of the natural world is a manifestation of the mysterious natural laws", he said, and predicted that despite the very best efforts of artists, the natural world would "be forever obscured from us".