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Albert Bierstadt

 (1830 - 1902)
Albert Bierstadt was active/lived in New York, California, Massachusetts, Kansas / Germany.  Albert Bierstadt is known for romanticized western landscape paintings, photography.

Albert Bierstadt

    BEER-shtaht  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Albert Bierstadt
Likely the most famous and financially successful late 19th-century painter of the American western landscape, Albert Bierstadt created grandiose, dramatic scenes of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas that lured many people to visit those sites. He was also one of the first artists to use a camera to record landscape views.

His oil paintings, many of them huge, were the ultimate expression of the popular 19th-century Romanticism.  But his reputation diminished when public taste in art changed dramatically and replaced Realism and Romanticism with Impressionism and when transcontinental railway travel revealed that the West looked nothing like his idealized paintings.

Bierstadt was born in Solingen, near Dusseldorf, Germany, and sailed as a baby with his family who settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Unlike many of his successful peers, as a child, he showed only casual interest in and talent for art, and he had little encouragement from his family.  In New Bedford, he acquired a few collectors of his early work including a Mrs. Hathaway from a local shipping family.  At a New Bedford Concert Hall, he also used the floral images of George Harvey (1800-1878) for a scenery picture shows with a Drummond Light, a lantern that allowed one picture to fade into another.

In 1853, he returned to Dusseldorf where he studied at the Royal Academy with landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing.  Some of his fellow students were Emmanuel Leutze, Sanford Gifford and Worthington Whittredge, and they all learned much attention to detail, respect for composition and skilled drawing.  During this period, he traveled extensively in Europe, especially Italy, and companions were Whittredge and Gifford. He completed many picturesque Old World scenes in the style that later became his trademark.

In 1857, he returned to the United States and painted the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and in 1858, exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design in New York.   His fourteen entries included, Lake Lucerne, which was one of the biggest in the exhibition.  That same year, representatives of the Boston Atheneum, purchased his painting, The Portico of Octavia, Rome, for $400.00 and this was the first museum purchase acquisition of his work.

In January 1859, he heard a lecture in New Bedford on the American West by Bayard Taylor, famous traveler and lecturer, and this exposure stirred an interest that played a large part in his future career.  Meanwhile, he had settled into New York City where he lived and occupied a studio in the Tenth Street Building, which had 25 studio spaces and became well known for its prestigious occupants.  He remained in this studio space until 1881, when he moved to 1271 Broadway to the Rensselaier Building.

A year later he found the subject matter that set the course of his career.  He joined a western military expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander to survey wagon routes in the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming.  From sketches and artifacts such as buffalo hides and Indian items, he painted studio western scenes including landscapes, Indians, and wildlife in the traditional style he had learned in Europe.  His first big western painting, 1860, had several titles: The Base of the Rocky Mountains, Laramie Peak and/or The Rocky Mountains.  (It should not be confused with the 1863 painting, The Rocky Mountains, now in the Metropolitan Museum.)  The 1860 painting did not generated much reaction when it was exhibited at the National Academy nor did it find a buyer, but it did establish "its creator, however, as the artistic spokesman of the American Far West" . . . (Hendricks 94) Subsequently the painting was lost, having been loaned to a Buffalo New York high school in 1922.

In 1861, Bierstadt and his friend from Dusseldorf, Emanuel Leutze, got permission to visit army camps around Washington to paint Civil War scenes, and from this experience plus an 1863 visit to Fort Sumter, Bierstadt painted war theme canvases including The Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  During this period, he also visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and made plans for a second visit to the American West, which involved securing welcomes at U.S. army forts by getting travel permission from Charles Sumner, Secretary of War.

This second trip West was with his friend, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose wife Rosalie Osborne, Bierstadt would subsequently marry in circumstances that 'titilated' New York society.  Ludlow was the son of a Presbyterian absolutionist minister of Poughkeepsie, New York, and was a writer of a controversial but best-selling book, The Hasheesn Eater.  The publication was praising of hashish and described his positive experiences of being one of the first westerners to use the drug, which had been used in India and other countries for over a thousand years but was first introduced in 1839 in America.  As a result of notoriety for the book, by the mid 1850s, he was highly prominent in New York society.  He was married to Rosalie Osborne of wealthy family of Waterville, New York,   It has been suggested that Rosalie and Bierstadt were showing interest in each other at the time of the 1863 western trip of the two men.

In 1863, with the understanding that Ludlow would take copious notes for a book to be published and possibly with the idea they would come to some conclusion about Rosalie, Ludlow and Bierstadt set off from New York in April 1863 from Atchison, Kansas.  There they got supplies and in late May the men left on the Overland Trail through Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and into California by July 17.  Painters Virgil Williams and Enoch Wood Perry joined them in San Francisco for a painting excursion to Yosemite during the month of August.  They camped in a meadow on the Merced River and near the base of Yosemite Falls, and were back in San Francisco by mid September.  Then they journeyed to Oregon, leaving from Portland to catch a steamer from San Francisco that returned them to New York on December 17, 1863.  During this time, Bierstadt's name came up for draft into Civil War service, but he paid an exemption of $300.

Three years later, the Ludlows were divorced, and Rosalie Ludlow married Albert Bierstadt.  From the time of his trip with Bierstadt, Fitz Hugh Ludlow had deteriorated mentally and physically.  Allegedly he was abusive to Rosalie, indulged in excessive alcohal and hashish, and decamped to Saint Joseph, Missouri with another woman.  He died in Switzerland in June 1870, having married a widow from Maine.

For Bierstadt, the Yosemite paintings were such a sensation that he became immediately famous.  In 1871, he returned to California and stayed for three years, exhibiting in local galleries and with the San Francisco Art Association.  He also returned in 1893 after the death of his wife.

In 1865, he built a thirty-five room home of granite and wood on the Hudson River near New York City.  He named the place "Malkasten," which was German for paint box and referred to the name of an artists' gathering and exhibition place in Dusseldorf during his student days.  However, he seldom worked from his home, preferring his New York City studio.  On November 10, 1882, "Malkasten" with many of his paintings was destroyed by fire.

In the 1860s and 70s, he earned the highest prices ever achieved by an American painter, and the US Congress allotted $20,000 for one of his paintings.  In 1867, he had a grand tour of Europe and England including a special audience with Queen Victoria.  His painting, Among the Sierra Mountains, California, was exhibited at the Royal Academy of London with mixed reactions as some thought it overtaxed the viewers' minds and imaginations.  He received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon III and the Order of the Stanislaus from the Czar of the Russias.

Returning to America, the Bierstadt's visited his photographer brother, Charles, and her sister, Esther, in Niagara Falls, and also went to New Hampshire for more painting in the White Mountains.  In 1871, the Bierstadt's went to California, staying for two and a half years.  They stayed primarily in San Francisco, and were much sought after socially.  He painted in the Sierra Nevadas, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, and Colis Huntington and Leland Stanford, two of California's most prominent businessmen, bought paintings from him.

However, toward the end of the century, beginning in the 1870s, his career had major setbacks with the increasing influence of the Barbizon and Impressionist styles from Europe.  Bierstadt's painting style was increasingly considered old fashioned and foolishly romantic.  However, he was asked to contribute a painting to the newly established Pennsylvania Academy, and sent Mount Adams, Rocky Mountains.  He also received a commission for paintings for the U.S. Capitol Building and contributed historical scenes, Landing in Monterey and Discovery of the Hudson.  He also entered work in the Philadelphia Exposition of 1875, but the public's reaction was less than enthusiastic. 

For income and because of lack of interest in living there,  the Bierstadt's rented Malkasten, their home on the Hudson River.  He took a studio and housing space in the Rensselaer Building at 1271 Broadway, and there held exhibitions for sales of his paintings in circumstances described as elegant and commodious.  The couple traveled in Canada and Colorado, but Rosalie, who had tuberculosis, spent much time in Nassau, where the climate was better for her health.  He did paintings there, and in 1875, returned to California.  From 1878 to 1879, the Bierstadts traveled in Europe, and then she was in the Bahamas for eight months while he again traveled west including to Yellowstone and Salt Lake City.  The next few years they both traveled together some, including a return to Europe, but she spent increasing time in Nassau, and he took several more trips including to Canada, Alaska and Europe. 

He was very disappointed when his entry, The Last of the Buffalo, (now at the Corcoran Gallery) was rejected for the Paris Exposition of 1889.  However, this canvas did have the consequence of stimulating an official census of the buffalo population, which was estimated to be 60 million at the time Columbus discovered America and was down to about 500 when Bierstadt did his painting.  Resulting from the census was a plan of government protection.

On March 1, 1893, Rosalie Bierstadt died.  She was fifty-two years old, and although she had been ill for the last years of their marriage, had reportedly been a much-loved companion of her husband.  A year later, he married Mary Hicks Stewart, widow of David Stewart, a Boston banker and father, by an earlier marriage, of Isabella Stewart Gardner, prominent art collector.  Reportedly this marriage was happy, and for a wedding gift, Albert gave her his historical painting, Landing of Columbus, which after his death, she gave to the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The couple lived in New York at 322 Fifth Avenue, and he kept a fairly regular schedule of painting, although the popularity of his work declined.  They traveled to Europe several times, and were entertained by Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight.
Although his wife was wealthy, they kept their finances separate, and in 1895, he declared bankruptcy.  Seven years later, on Febraury 18, 1902, he died in New York City, having just returned from a walk.  His body is buried beside his parents in the Rural Cemetery of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

For several decades after his death, he was largely forgotten in the public mind.  But he has been rediscovered in the late 20th century and stirred interest in many collectors, especially his paintings of the American West.

Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt, Painter of the American West
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Albert Bierstadt

Bierstadt was the most famous 19th-century artist to visit Alaska. At the height of his career in the 1860s and 1870s, Bierstadt was perhaps the most successful and renowned painter in America, rivaled only perhaps by Frederic Church.

Sadly, Bierstadt lived long enough to see his romantic, grandiose, highly detailed paintings of the Western landscape go out of favor, replaced by more adventurous, modern sorts of painting, and he died an all but forgotten figure.  More recently, his work has again been lionized, only to be re-attacked as an embodiment of the 'American capitalist spirit' that led to development of the West and devastating consequences for Native American cultures.  The roller coaster of Bierstadt's reputation is as much the result of changing political climates as stylistic fashion.

By the early 1880s, his fortunes were waning as the art-loving public turned increasingly towards more modern modes of expression.  One of his most grievous blows came from his fellow artists when the American selection committee for the Paris University Exposition of 1889 rejected his huge painting 'The Last of the Buffalo' (Corcoran Gallery, New York). Only a few months after this unexpected refusal, the artist traveled West by train from his home in New York to Victoria, B.C., and then north by steamer to Alaska on the steamer, Ancon.  This was a time when many major American landscape painters were in search of inspiring scenery for their works. Soon after the United States occupied the Territory, of Alaska, many artists were attracted to go there, despite the distances and hardships involved.

Neither Bierstadt nor his fellow passengers could have known that it would be the ship's last journey. After stopping at Juneau, Ft. Wrangell, and Sitka, and touring Glacier Bay, the ship returned to the village of Loring, near Ketchikan on August 28, 1889. On departure, the Ancon drifted onto a reef and was wrecked. Bierstadt's 'The Wreck of the Ancon, Loring Bay, Alaska' (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) depicts the Ancon listing helplessly offshore. This stunning work, with the remote, abandoned ship isolated in motionless water and surrounded by a low fog, is a personal and very atypical example of the artist's work.  It is, however, and probably the best known and most widely reproduced 19th century painting of Alaska.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Albert Bierstadt
Born Solingen, Germany, Jan. 7, 1830; died New York, NY, Feb. 19, 1902. Painter, specialized in landscape. Studied at the Düsseldorf Academy. Member of F.W. Lander's 1859 expedition across Kansas.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
AskArt,, accessed Jan. 11, 2005; Family Search. Version 2.5.0. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2002. accessed July 13, 2006; subject Of many books among them Hendricks, Gordon. Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1974) and Anderson, Nancy K., Linda S. Ferber, and Helena Wright. Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990)

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
Recognized as the foremost painter of the American frontier during the nineteenth-century, Albert Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1830. At the age of two, he and his family emigrated to the United States, settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Nothing is known of his early art training; however, he might possibly have been influenced by local landscape painters and daguerreotypists. By the time he was twenty, he was supporting himself by teaching "monochromatic" painting and his work was beginning to attract the attention of New Bedford collectors.

In 1853, Bierstadt traveled to Düsseldorf in order to broaden his art education. It was there that he associated with such American artists as Worthington Whittredge and Carl Wimar, all of whom frequently gathered in the studio of the German-American history painter, Emanuel Leutze. During this period, he was introduced to the work of Carl Friedrich Lessing and Andreas Aachenbach, contemporary German painters widely admired for their heroic, highly finished landscape compositions. Bierstadt quickly absorbed these stylistic conventions, eventually becoming the leading American representative of the Düsseldorf style.

While abroad, Bierstadt traveled along the Rhine, in the Alps and in Italy, often in the company of Whittredge, Sanford Gifford and William Stanley Haseltine. He returned to New Bedford in the autumn of 1857. In the following year, he made the first of his many contributions to the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design.

In April of 1859, he joined the expedition along the Overland Trail, led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander, a trip that would soon give rise to the most productive and important phase of his career. Armed with sketches and stereographs, he returned to New York City in the autumn of 1859, establishing his studio in the Tenth Street Building. There he produced the first of the panoramic western landscapes that established his reputation on an international level and, during the mid-1860s, made him a rival of Frederick Church for the position of America's preeminent painter.

Indeed, because much of the continent remained still relatively unexplored at that time, Bierstadt's monumental renderings of stately mountains and cascading waterfalls created romantic visions of wanderlust in the minds of Easterners. His first public exhibition of these works in 1860 was a resounding success. Many critics deemed the viewing of his depictions as an almost "religious" experience, associating his mountain spires with majestic cathedrals, his luminous skies with the awesome power of God. As pointed out by Barbara Novak, such works represent the attitude of the "transcendental mind," one in which "all matter was an extension of God." 1

Bierstadt was elected a full Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1860. In the same year, he made several painting trips to the White Mountains as well as to the southern United States. He made a second trip to the West in 1863 which was followed by another visit to Europe in 1867. In 1871, he moved to California where he played an active role in the art life of San Francisco. In 1873, he returned to New York.

During the 1870s, Bierstadt executed a mural for the U.S. Capitol (1875) and in conjunction with the declining health of his wife, made the first of many trips to the Bahamas. He made a third trip to Europe in 1883. During 1889, he painted in both Alaska and British Columbia. He continued to produce landscapes throughout the 1890s. He also became involved in the promotion of various inventions, including his own designs for the improvement of railway cars.

Albert Bierstadt died in New York City in 1902. Although his reputation during the 1890s suffered slightly from the attraction for French art, his impact upon the American landscape tradition of the nineteenth century remains strong. His large-scale, panoramic landscapes, with their dramatic, almost sublime, light effects, coupled with the meticulous rendering of details, reflect the influences of both the contemporary landscape school of Düsseldorf as well as the native Hudson River School aesthetic. His works can be found in major public and private collections throughout North America and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the National Gallery of Canada.

The preceding essay was written by Matthew Baigell

Matthew Baigell is Distinguished Professor in the Art History Department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is author of many books on art, including A History of American Painting, Dictionary of American Art, The American Scene: American Painting During the 1930's, A Concise History of American Painting & Sculpture, Charles Burchfield, Thomas Cole, The Western Art of Frederick Remington, Thomas Hart Benton, and his most current monograph Albert Bierstadt. His articles have appeared in Arts Magazine, Art Journal and Art Criticism.

Mr. Baigell was educated at the University of Vermont, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Albert Bierstadt was one of the most prominent and influential American landscape painters of the 19th century.  With his enormous, detailed paintings of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, he introduced many Easterners to the grandeur of the American West for the first time.

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany, Bierstadt emigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts with his family at age two.  He returned to Dusseldorf 21 years later to study at the famed Royal Academy.  Under the tutelage of Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing, Bierstadt learned the tenets of the "Dusseldorf School," characterized by attention to minute detail, exaggerated atmospheric effects, and heroic compositions, all combining to heighten the romantic appeal of the landscape.

During his four years of study, Bierstadt traveled extensively through Europe, sketching and painting with American friends from the Royal Academy including Sanford Gifford, Emanuel Leutze, and Worthington Whittredge.  Honing his skills in the European landscape, Bierstadt returned to New Bedford in 1857, subsequently traveling to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for artistic inspiration.  The next year, he exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design in New York, offering fourteen paintings of Europe and New England. The National Academy made Bierstadt a full member or "Academician" in 1860.

1860 also was the year that Bierstadt first saw the landscapes that would become the centerpiece of his career and help him become the most celebrated American artist of the next two decades. Attaching himself to a military expedition assigned to survey wagon routes in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, Bierstadt not only reveled in the vastness of the western landscape, but observed in detail its flora, fauna, and human inhabitants. Gathering material for the paintings he would execute back in his New York studio, he not only made sketches and collected artifacts, but also took stereo photographs, being one of the first artists to gather material in this relatively new medium.

Bierstadt exhibited at least one of his Wyoming paintings at the National Academy of Design but it attracted relatively little attention.  Over the next two years, he and his friend Emanual Leutze turned their attention to painting military scenes of Civil War encampments and forts.  In 1863, however, Bierstadt returned to the West on an extended sketching trip, following the Overland Trail through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.   In San Francisco he met up with artist friends for an excursion into Yosemite.

It was the Yosemite paintings that made Bierstadt an overnight sensation.  During the 1860s his work commanded higher prices than any American artist had ever received.  The US Congress appropriated $20,000 for one canvas and also commissioned two historical murals for the Capitol Building.  To satisfy the market for his Western paintings, Bierstadt returned to Calfornia in 1871 and stayed for two and one-half years painting in the Sierra Nevada, Tahoe, and Yosemite.  He made a third trip to California in 1875, and a final western excursion in 1889, this time to Alaska.

Interest in Bierstadt's work began to wane by the 1880s as the dramatic romanticism of the Dusseldorf style lost favor to the softer Barbizon school and then to French Impressionism.   In 1889 he received a clear message of the public's changing tastes when his canvas The Last of the Buffalo-now one of his most famous paintings-was rejected for the Paris Exposition. Bierstadt died in relative obscurity at his home in New York in 1902.

Although Bierstadt was (and still is) best known for his monumental landscape paintings, he produced a large body of excellent smaller, finished paintings primarily of landscapes and animals. These works, once again, command some of the highest prices for 19th century American painting.

Biography from Taylor | Graham
Albert Bierstadt was among the more energetic, industrious, and internationally honored American artists of the nineteenth century.  His monumental paintings of the American West brought him a worldwide audience.

Born in humble circumstances in Soligen, Germany, he emigrated to America with his parents at the age of two.  The family settled in the busy sea-port town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father became established as a cooper.  Little is known of Bierstadt's earliest artistic training, but he was advertising himself as an instructor in monochromatic painting in New Bedford in 1850.

Albert Bierstadt's name is synonymous with the American West in the 19th Century, and his work became the standard historians use to measure his contemporaries.  His monumental works of the Rocky Mountains and the many beautiful regions of the American West seduced both buyers and the general public alike.  His breathtaking views of the natural world held grandeur as though just slightly divine.

Like many of the Hudson River painters, Bierstadt was born in Europe before relocating to the U.S.  In Bierstadt's case, he was only two when his family left Dusseldorf to relocate to New Bedford Massachusetts in 1832.  Though he showed no early signs of greatness, he returned in 1853 to Dusseldorf to study under Andreas Achenbach and Karl Lessing.  For four years he trained, studied and traveled throughout Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Returning to America in 1857, Bierstadt began to paint in New Hampshire in the White Mountains before an opportunity to accompany an expedition throughout the American West under Colonel Frederick W. Lander gave him the chance to experience a part of America few would ever see.  This was the Golden Age of the American Frontier, and it was artists like Bierstadt, Church and Remington who had the rare opportunity to see and paint it before development, large scale migration and modernization.

But it was not just the American West where Bierstadt journeyed. Like Church Bierstadt had the determination to travel to distant regions with all its hardships and difficulties that discouraged many other painters despite their artistic talent. Because it was impossible to transport large canvases on horseback through snow, mountains, deserts and oceans, all traveler-painters devised different methods for sketching that they would later draw upon when painting large pictures in the comfort of their studios.  Recording size, proportions, textures and light diffusion on the small canvases was essential in order to capture the original mood later when their memories grew fuzzy.  Some painter's sketch work was hastily or impatiently rendered more as a cue to recall colors and tones.  The picture would be rough, blotchy and haphazardly done.  For other painters, especially those who traveled, the sketch was crucial; through necessity the plein air painting, done on location, outdoors amidst the elements, had to be more thorough, more carefully done, than a mere study. 

Bierstadt and artists like him had a unique love affair with plein air painting.  Although always a smaller picture, the works always still capture the Bierstadt essence.  They contain a remarkable amount of detail, still containing rich colors and that undeniable moodiness.  It is a sharp contrast to the plein air paintings of Frederic Church, which are very loose, very quickly applied, with paint so thinly applied that it often seems transparent.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries
Albert Bierstadt was one of the most flamboyant personalities of the American art world in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Combining a flair for showmanship with abundant artistic gifts, Bierstadt produced panoramic views of majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls in the American West that awed and inspired audiences back East.  Bierstadt was born on January 7, 1830, in Solingen, Germany (near Düsseldorf) and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  The circumstances of his early training are unknown, but by the age of twenty he was exhibiting paintings in New Bedford and Boston.  At the age of twenty-three he embarked for Düsseldorf to study at its famous academy.  He became friends with the Ohioan Worthington Whittredge and Sanford Gifford, whom he met in the studio of German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, best known for his painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).  After three years of study in Düsseldorf, Bierstadt moved on to Rome, where he remained until 1857 when he returned to New Bedford.  Lake Lucerne (1856, collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz), which he painted on a summer visit to Switzerland before his return to the States, was the first painting exhibited by Bierstadt at the National Academy of Design in New York.

In 1859 Bierstadt had the opportunity to go West on the Overland Trail with an expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander.  The trip, which took him through Kansas and Nebraska territories and as far west as the Rocky Mountains, led Bierstadt to his life's work.  After the expedition Bierstadt settled in New York and took a studio in the newly constructed Tenth Street Studio Building, which offered grand rooms with high ceilings—good for working and well appointed for receiving the public on viewing days.  Using sketches and stereographs he had made during his travels, Bierstadt began painting the panoramic western scenes that secured his reputation as one of the nation's leading landscape painters.  Bierstadt visited the West again in 1863, when he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time.  During another trip from 1871 to 1873, Bierstadt settled in San Francisco for an extended stay.

Bierstadt's reputation was secure by the time of the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, which opened in New York in 1864.  He exhibited The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a monumental work dominated by soaring peaks in the background, a loosely defined middle ground, and detailed depiction of an Indian camp in the foreground.  This combination of sharp detail and hazy, atmospheric effects is a hallmark of the Düsseldorf School.

Paintings by Albert Bierstadt are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento; National Academy of Design, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; St. Louis Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Detroit Institute of Arts; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond and many more.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I
One of the first artists to use a camera to record landscape views, Albert Bierstadt also sought to convey in his paintings the monumental grandeur of the landscape of the far West. Bierstadt was born in 1830 in the small town of Solingen, near Dusseldorf in Germany. His family immigrated to the United States when he was two years old and he grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1853, Bierstadt returned to Dusseldorf and studied under the landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing. Under the influence of the Dusseldorf school, Bierstadt learned to develop the attention for detail and the atmospheric perspective for which he is so well known.

He returned to America in 1857 and joined a western military expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander to survey wagon routes in the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming. From sketches, he later painted in his Tenth Street Studio New York landscapes, Indians, and wildlife in the traditional style he had learned in Europe. He was also elected a member of the National Academy. However, Bierstadt did not forget the grandeur he saw in the West. Throughout his lifetime, he traveled back and forth across the continent, as well as to Europe with his wife Rosalie.

After the Civil War, Bierstadt enjoyed his greatest popularity as a painter of what was then termed the "unblemished grandeur" of the western landscape. His reputation introduced him to many famous people of the time, including the poet Robert Longfellow, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, and President Rutherford Hayes. In the 1860s and 70s, Bierstadt earned the highest prices ever achieved by an American painter, and the United States Congress allotted $20,000 for one of his paintings.

In 1867, he had a grand tour of Europe and England, including a special audience with Queen Victoria. His painting "Among the Sierra Mountains, California" was exhibited at the Royal Academy with mixed reactions, as some thought it overtaxed the viewers' minds and imaginations. He received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon III and the Order of the Stanislaus from the Czar of the Russias.

At this time, Bierstadt was perhaps the most successful and renowned painter in America, rivaled only perhaps by Frederic Church. However, by the early 1880s, his fortunes were waning as the art-loving public turned increasingly towards more modern modes of expression.

His oil paintings, many of them huge, were the ultimate expression of the popular 19th-century Romanticism. But his reputation diminished when public taste in art changed dramatically and when transcontinental railway travel revealed that the West looked nothing like his idealized paintings. Sadly, Bierstadt lived long enough to see his romantic, grandiose and highly detailed paintings of the Western landscape go out of favor, replaced by more the adventurous and modern sorts of painting, and he died an all but forgotten figure.

Reference: "The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier", edited by Dr. Rick Stewart,

Biography from Roughton Galleries,Inc
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) like most painters of the Rocky Mountains in the nineteenth century, was foreign born. He was born in 1830 in Soligen, near Dusseldorf, Germany and died in New York in 1902. He and his family immigrated to the United States when he was two. He grew up in New Bedford, Mass.

In 1853, Bierstadt returned to Dusseldorf, to study under the landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl F. Lessing. Under the influence of the Dusseldorf school, and in the company of his fellow painters Emmanuel Leutze and Thomas Whitteridge, Bierstadt learned attention to detail, the respect for drawing and the numerous tricks and effects of technique which he utilized,essentially unchanged, for the rest of his life.

Bierstadt traveled though Germany, Switzerland and Italy during his four years of European study, and produced some competent and pleasing of acceptably picturesque Old World scenes. After his return to the United Stated in 1857, he traveled and painted the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He also began to employ a camera, then not used by artists.

It was not until 1858 that he was to discover the subject matter, which he would make his own. In that year, Bierstadt joined a survey expedition to the American West led by Col. F. W. Lander. Bierstadt made numerous studies, working swiftly, of the spectacular Western scenery, Indians and wildlife. He patiently set to work in his studio to produce paintingsof the West which filled a seemly insatiable hunger of the American and European public.

Public Collections:
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Capitol Building, Wash., D.C.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
High Museum, Atlanta, Ga.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.
Museum of Fine Art, Boston
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, VT.
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Amon Carter, FWT
Gilcrease, Tulsa

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.
Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902)

Born in Solingen, Germany in 1830, Bierstadt moved to Massachusetts with his family as a youth. Twenty-one years later, he returned to his home country to study painting at the Dusseldorf Academy, where he formed close friendships with Emanuel Leutze and Worthington Whittredge. After several years of study in landscape, genre and historical painting, he and his fellow American painter-friends made a sketching trip to the Swiss Alps. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1857, Bierstadt opened a studio at 15 Tenth Street in New York City and went on summer excursions to the White Mountains. Soon he traveled frequently to the Rocky Mountains and the California coast to paint from nature.

From 1871 to 1873, Bierstadt traveled throughout California, where he visited the Farallons in April 1872. The Farallons are a group of islands in the Pacific, twenty-six miles west of San Francisco, CA. A lighthouse keeper and his family maintained a home on the otherwise deserted islands and it is likely the artist stayed with them while he sketched the seal-covered coast.

Seals was probably painted shortly after Bierstadt's visit in the Farallons. According to travel literature describing the area, "This is a wild and beautiful scene. The sharp pointed rocks are standing boldly out against the sky, and covered with birds and sea lions." (Hutchings, California Magazine, August 1856, p. 52; 55) In May of 1872, the San Francisco Bulletin reported that, "Mr. Bierstadt returned from the Farallons yesterday. He has produces sketches for a marine painting of the Isles, and will doubtless give us a faithful likeness." (Bulletin, San Francisco, May 2, 1872).

Bierstadt's exceedingly desirable and rare paintings of seals upon rocks are internationally recognized as some of his most expressive, well-painted canvases.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
In 1859, at the age of 29, Albert Bierstadt accompanied a government expedition on a painting trip that would establish him as one of the most popular landscape artists of his time. He traveled with his sketch pad, paints and canvas on the back of a mule, past the Missouri River and deep into the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. There he found his greatest subject matter, the mysterious, magnificent, forests, plains, indigenous wildlife and peoples of the West. His later journey from 1863 to 1870 to California proved to be a culmination of his Rocky Mountain efforts.

Born in Germany, Bierstadt spent his childhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As a young child he returned to Europe for sophisticated art studies and extensive travel through the countryside and Alps of Germany and Italy.

Following his 1859 trip to Wyoming, Bierstadt moved to New York from where he would make many excursions West - soon as far as California where he painted the first known rendition of Yosemite Valley in 1864. That same year, the artist's "The Rocky Mountains" sold for $25,000, the highest price yet paid for a work of art. Today, that painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bierstadt's popularity introduced him to many famous people of the time, including the poet Robert Longfellow, The Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, and President Rutherford Hayes. Throughout his lifetime, Bierstadt traveled back and forth across the continent and to Europe with his wife Rosalie. Today, nearly every state owns a Bierstadt painting, either in public or private collections.

Biography from Art Cellar Exchange
Albert Bierstadt was born in 1830 in the small town of Solingen, near Dusseldorf in Germany. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 2 years old and he grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1853, Bierstadt returned to Dusseldorf and studied under the landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing. Under the influence of the Dusseldorf school, Bierstadt learned to develop the attention for detail and the atmospheric perspective for which he is so well known.

Bierstadt traveled through Germany, Switzerland and Italy during his 4 years of European study and produced many beautiful paintings of picturesque Old World scenes. After returning to the United States in 1857, he traveled and painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was at this time that he began to use the camera as a way to document his subject matter.  In 1858, Bierstadt joined a survey expedition to the American West. During this trip he discovered the subject matter that he would make his own.  The spectacular Western scenery, Indians, and wildlife inspired Bierstadt's work.

After this journey, he set to work and produced the grand paintings of the American West with which we are so familiar. Bierstadt's stunning vistas of mountainscapes and waterfalls are often portrayed as romantic dreams.  He made another trip to the west in 1863, and the photographs and drawings he brought back at this time brought him to the peak of his career.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art
Born in Solingen, Germany, near Dusseldorf, Albert Bierstadt grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts from the age of two. He returned to Dusseldorf in 1854 for three years of art study, and on his return to New Bedford joined other well-known landscape painters of the day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The watershed event in Bierstadt's career took place in 1859, when he was invited to join the Lander survey expedition to the Pacific.

Overwhelmed by the mountains of the West, he went on to found his career and reputation on large-scale images that made the region seem even more glorious than its impressive reality. Bierstadt's paintings are today widely seen as a prime element in encouraging Western migration and development in the United States. At the height of his career in the 1860s and 1870s, he was perhaps the most successful and renowned painter in America. Examples of his work are included in most major collections of American art.

Though best known for his enormous, highly romanticized landscapes of a golden West, Bierstadt is at least equally admired for his smaller finished, less-idealized works and his accurate, perceptive on-site studies and oil sketches. One of his best known paintings, the small "The Wreck of the Ancon, Loring Bay, Alaska," at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, bears witness to the sinking of the steamship on which Bierstadt traveled the coast of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska as far north as Glacier Bay in 1889.

Biography from St Johnsbury Athenaeum
Albert Bierstadt's Domes of the Yosemite, in our museum collection, depicts one of the nation's most admired natural wonders and is, appropriate to the scale of its subject, among the artists most ambitious compositions. The painting was created during a period of self-discovery for Americans fascinated by the western landscape and its awe-inspiring natural phenomena. Photographs and landscape paintings by artists, including Bierstadt, who traveled with government survey expeditions during the late 18505 and 186os captivated popular audiences and inspired pioneering environmental legislation to protect the region from commercial exploitation. Abraham Lincoln officially granted the Yosemite Valley to the state of California in 1864, creating the first public land trust in American history. In an era when California remained a distant and inaccessible region for most Americans, Bierstadt's monumental painting offered viewers a compelling personal experience of its grandeur and uniqueness.

Bierstadt's beginnings foretold little of his later fame as the nation's most celebrated portrayer of the American west. Born in Germany and raised in coastal New Bedford, Massachusetts, he only began his academic training in 1853, when he traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany to study. He spent the next four years traveling through Germany, Italy, and Switzerland before returning to the United States. Conditioned by his experiences in the Alps, Bierstadt cultivated a taste for mountainous landscapes and made his first trip west in 1859 with Frederick W. Lander's government survey party. With him, the artist brought a stereoscopic camera, which emulates human sight by taking two photographs simultaneously just inches apart, a forerunner of three-dimensional glasses. Stereoscopic landscape photography immerses the viewer in the experience of space, much like Bierstadt's magisterial Domes of the Yosemite would do on a vastly larger scale in the ensuing years.Bierstadt first visited the Yosemite Valley in 1863, while on his second trip west. The author Fitz Hugh Ludlow, who was traveling with the party as well, wrote about his impression upon first entering the valley:

"We did not so much seem to be seeing from that crag of vision a new scene on the old familiar globe as a new heaven and a new earth into which the creative spirit had just been breathed. I hesitate now, as I did then, at the attempt to give my vision utterance. Never were words so beggared for an abridged translation of any Scripture of Nature."

Our vantage point in Bierstadt's Domes of the Yosemite is from midway up Yosemite Falls near Columbia Rock. Visitors coming to see the painting when it toured to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston received a key identifying the sites visible in the landscape and a topographical map showing the vantage point. The latter makes clear that Bierstadt dramatically compressed the valley's features to narrow the valley and juxtapose various well-known elements. The landscape's soaring features answer one another across the valley, echoing the elegant whorls of rock known as the Royal Arches at the composition's center. By emphasizing the site's vertical elements, Bierstadt was able to accentuate the scene's soaring heights, deliberately evoking the architectural forms of a medieval cathedral's central nave.

The Domes of the Yosemite fits so seamlessly into the Athenaeum's Art Gallery that it is difficult to imagine it elsewhere. Nevertheless, the work was originally commissioned for the Connecticut home of financier Legrand Lockwood well before the Athenaeum was founded. Lockwood was devastated by the depreciation of gold in 1869, however, and died soon thereafter in 1872. The $5,100 that the painting sold for at auction after Lockwood's death paled in comparison with the astonishing $25,000 that he originally paid Bierstadt for the work in 1867. The Domes was then purchased by Horace Fairbanks to be the visual centerpiece of the Athenaeum's Gallery addition. Whereas the polygonal north and south alcoves maximize the wall space for exhibiting numerous smaller works, the broad, single face of the western wall offers pride of place for a single, dramatic composition. The addition of a viewing balcony on the opposite end of the Gallery in 1882 completed the Gallery's arrangement in its current form, and offers an excellent vantage from which to explore Bierstadt's composition.

Today, Bierstadt's Domes of the Yosemite remains the centerpiece of the Athenaeum's art collection, drawing visitors from around the country and the world. Its presence in St. Johnsbury is a testament to Fairbanks' desire to make the Athenaeum a center for the study of art and culture.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
Albert Bierstadt arrived in the United States as a small child, when his family emigrated from Germany to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Little is known about his earliest artistic training, but he sought instruction as a young man when he returned to Düsseldorf, Germany.  In Europe he forged friendships with Emanuel Leutze, Sanford Gifford, Worthington Whittredge, and William Stanley Haseltine. (1)

After several years, Bierstadt returned from Germany to a nation ripe for his canvases exploring the new American landscape.  Bierstadt began traveling throughout the American West by 1859, and these compositions are filled with the concept of Manifest Destiny and an appreciation for the expansive, undeniable beauty of the American landscape, and it is these paintings for which he became most well known. 

Bierstadt also explored the land closer to his home in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire.  When Bierstadt traversed the land looking for subject matter he made studies on site, utilizing oil paint on paper as his primary medium.  Bierstadt would then return to his studio to transform the studies into enormous, complex variations that often served as publicly displayed cinematic or theatrical views of the landscape for large numbers of the American public.

On many occasions Bierstadt painted the White Mountains, a part of the Appalachian Mountain system that include the highest peaks in the Northeast.  These mountains became a popular retreat for Bierstadt, who began exploring as early as 1852, before his return to Europe.  He made subsequent visits to the mountains from 1858-62. Bierstadt was not alone in appreciating the mountains' beauty because by the 1840s, they had developed into a popular tourist destination.  By the next decade artists including Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, Frederick Kensett, and Asher Durand had all observed the mountains firsthand. (2)


1. For biographical information see Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West (New York: Harrison House, 1988) and the entry by Catherine Campbell in The White Mountains: Place and Perceptions, exhibition catalogue, University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1980), 79-80.

2. For the most complete information on this subject see The White Mountains: Place and Perceptions, exhibition catalogue, University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1980).

Submitted by staff, Columbus Museum

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About  Albert Bierstadt

Born:  1830 - Solingen, Germany
Died:   1902 - New York City
Known for:  romanticized western landscape paintings, photography