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Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902)
Birth Place: Solingen (Düsseldorf district, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)
Albert Bierstadt is among the prestigious American landscape painters. His sweeping romanticized landscapes legitimized American art throughout the world and made the untamable beauty of the American West tangible. Bierstadt is placed with the Hudson River School due to his subject matter of majestic American landscapes as well as his romantic, almost religious use of light. However, due to his work in the American West, including his works of Yellowstone National Park, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the Rocky Mountain School along with Thomas Moran. Albert Bierstadt’s technique of using light and shadows as well as multiple horizons gave depth to his western landscapes, overwhelming the viewer with a sense detailed endlessness.
Bierstadt was raised in Massachusetts but returned to Germany, the land of his birth, to attend an informal school of painting at Dusseldorf, which trained him in traditional European landscape painting. At the age of 29, Bierstadt travelled to the American West for the first time and was inspired by its vast and varied landscape. Once he returned, he began turning his rough sketches into the large scale landscapes that he is known for. Bierstadt would continue to explore the American West and utilize this method of painting for the rest of his life. During the period of the Civil War, having paid a substitute to a replace him in the draft, Bierstadt reached critical acclaim, first through his painting Guerilla Warfare, Civil War, which was based off of a photograph taken by his brother and was recognized by the National Academy. Through the National Academy, Bierstadt received several awards in various European countries, culminating in a private exhibition for Queen Victoria. This two year European tour allowed for Bierstadt to cultivate his social and business contacts.
When he returned to the American West in 1871, Bierstadt’s unyielding and beautiful paintings of the Yellowstone Forest region were instrumental in convincing congressmen to pass the Yellowstone National Park Bill in 1872, preserving the American West for future generations and starting the National Park program. Afterwards, every western explorer requested Bierstadt to convey the endless, pristine wilderness of the West. Due to his wife’s health, Albert Bierstadt moved to the Bahamas in the late 1870s, and while he continued to the American West, his popularity slowly declined. Despite Bierstadt’s success, many of his contemporaries complained of his over use of light and romanticism in his landscapes as well as the advertisement and financially beneficiary nature of his work. Nevertheless, Bierstadt remains one of the most highly prized American painters whether it be one of his sweeping landscapes, a preliminary sketch, or a small oil study.
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