It’s somewhat ironic that perhaps the greatest landscape painter of America was not an American but rather the German painter, Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902). The painter is best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. Bierstadt was born in Prussia, but his family moved to the United States when he was one year old.
In 1859, Bierstadt traveled westward in the company of Frderick Lander, a land surveyor for the U.S. government, to see those western American landscapes for his work. In 1863, Bierstadt traveled West again, this time in the company of the author Fitz Hugh Ludlow whose wife he later married. The pair spent seven weeks in the Yosemite Valley. Throughout the 1860s, Bierstadt used studies from this trip as the source for large-scale paintings for exhibition and he continued to visit the American West throughout his career. The immense canvases he produced after his trips with Lander and Ludlow established him as the preeminent painter of the western American landscape.
As noted in the Yale University Art Gallery about Bierstadt’s paintings of the west, “The monumental panoramic views of the West, both literal and in paintings, promised Americans a golden future. Albert Bierstadt was the first American painter to capture fully the symbolic power of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Yosemite Valley. Ironically, his ‘untouched’ landscapes were post-settlement spectacles, made after the completion of the transcontinental railway through the western frontier, which brought thousands of tourists to the West, such as those shown here.”