Albert Bierstadt, American landscape painter, born (1830)

In the mid-1800s, the American west was a distant wilderness to most people.  Americans, and the rest of the world, saw the landscape mostly through the works of artists who accompanied survey expeditions.  Their often monumental and romanticized paintings fired the imagination of an “American Eden.”  Perhaps the most famous of these artists, both at the time and still today, is Albert Bierstadt.

Albert Bierstadt (photo by Napolean Sarony)

Albert Bierstadt was born on January 7, 1830 (died 1902), in Prussian Germany.  His parents emigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, when Albert was just two years old.  His father built barrels for the whaling industry, providing a comfortable childhood for Albert and his two brothers.

The boy was a natural artist, constantly sketching what he saw around him in the New England landscape.  Little is known about his early life, but his skill at drawing led him to become an art teacher at age 20.  Then, in 1853, he traveled to Germany, studying with experienced artists and sketching across Germany, Switzerland, and Italy for four years.  He matured as an artist, demonstrating exceptional talent at representing the vertical landscapes of the Alps.

Once back in New Bedford, he began to exhibit his European work, gaining recognition for his luminous use of light and color that produced serene and gentle landscapes.  He traveled throughout New England, and like other artists of the Hudson River School, he painted highly evocative and idealized American landscapes.

Bierstadt, however, along with others including Thomas Moran, became enthralled by the landscape of the American West.  During 1857-1859, he took two trips, making countless sketches and experimenting with the new field of photography.  He travels convinced him that the American West “has the best material for the artist in the world.”  He took a studio in New York City and, using the sketches from his travels, began painting the large canvases for which he became famous.  He used the techniques he honed painting in the Alps to produce mystical scenes based on recognizable landscapes but modified to evoke tranquility and majesty.

Looking Up kThe Yosemite Valley, by Albert Bierstadt (Haggin Museum)

For the next several decades, Bierstadt took his place as one of the nation’s most revered landscape artists.  His monumental canvases graced the U.S. capitol and the finest galleries across the nation (where they can still be seen today).  He emphasized the grandeur of the natural environment, generally minimizing the presence of the human-built world. The popularity of his work is often credited with energizing the drive to protect western landscapes as national parks.  He was also appalled by the destruction of American bison and other species.  “The continual slaughter of native species,” he said, “must be halted before all is lost.”

In his later years, he spent parts of every year in the Bahamas, where his wife had moved for medical reasons.  His paintings of tropical environments are generally considered of equal quality to those he painted of the American West.

Bierstadt’s painting, The Last of the Buffalo, illustrated his dismay at the overharvest of American bison (Corcoran Gallery of Art)

Bierstadt’s popularity fell as the 20th Century approached, with critics dismissing his large canvases as overly sentimental.  His reputation revived in the 1960s as the environmental movement renewed Americans interest in the need for protecting our great natural resources. Today his works occupy a prominent position as symbols of the majesty of the western landscape.  As he said,“Truly all is remarkable and a wellspring of amazement and wonder.  Man is so fortunate to dwell in this American Garden of Eden.”

References:

Albertbierstadt.org.  Albert Bierstadt Biography in Details.  Available at:  https://www.albertbierstadt.org/biography.html.  Accessed January 5, 2023.

National Gallery of Art.  Albert Bierstadt.  Available at:  https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.6707.html.  Accessed January 5, 2023.

The Art Story.  Albert Bierstadt.  Available at:  https://www.theartstory.org/artist/bierstadt-albert/.  Accessed January 5, 2023.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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