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Master Artist Bios:

Albert Bierstadt

by Henry S.H. Young


Albert Bierstadt

Germany/United States, January 7, 1830 - February 18, 1902

19th Century Romantic Impressionist Painter



Albert Bierstadt was a German-American painter best known for his luminous, awe inspiring landscapes of the American West.  He made several trips during the Westward Expansion obtaining subject matter for his works.


Born in Solingen, Germany, Bierstadt's family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts when he was a year old.  He showed his true artistic talent as a child with his crayola sketches and at the age of 20, he graduated to oil paints.  He studied painting in Düsseldorf from 1853 to 1857 and he taught drawing and painting before devoting himself to painting.


Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park (c. 1868)

Oakland Museum, Oakland, California


Storm in the Mountains (1870)




Bierstadt began making paintings in New England and upstate New York. In 1859, he traveled westward in the company of Frederick W. Lander, a land surveyor for the U.S. government, returning with sketches that would result in numerous finished paintings. In 1863 he returned west again, in the company of the author Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose wife he would later marry. He continued to visit the American West throughout his career.

Though his paintings sold for princely sums, Bierstadt was not held in particularly high esteem by critics of his day. His use of uncommonly large canvases was thought to be an egotistical indulgence, as his paintings would invariably dwarf those of his contemporaries when they were displayed together. The romanticism evident in his choices of subject and in his use of light was felt to be excessive by contemporary critics. His paintings emphasized atmospheric elements like fog, clouds and mist to accentuate and complement the feel of his work. Bierstadt sometimes changed details of the landscape to inspire awe. The colors he used are also not always true. He painted what he believed was the way things should be: water is ultramarine, vegetation is lush and green, etc.

Nonetheless, in 1860 he was elected a member of the National Academy; he received medals in Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, and Germany; and his paintings remain popular. He was a prolific artist, having completed over 500 (possibly as many as 4000) paintings during his lifetime, most of which have survived. Many are scattered through museums around the United States. Prints are available commercially for many. Original paintings themselves do occasionally come up for sale, at ever increasing prices.

In 1882 his studio at Irvington, New York, was destroyed by fire, with many of his pictures.


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