In 1858, when he was twenty-eight years old, Albert Bierstadt was part of Colonel Frederick W. Lander's surveying expedition of the American West. The trip was the pivotal event of his career, for it provided him with the subjects that would make him famous. Oil sketches of animals, Native Americans, and scenery, especially mountains--which he executed quickly on the spot--became the basis for the grand, highly polished compositions he produced in his studio.
The 1860s brought Bierstadt's greatest success. Worldwide celebrity and some the highest prices paid to an American artist up to that time were the rewards of hard work in a classic American success story. Bierstadt had emigrated from Germany with his family when he was two years old and was raised in modest circumstances in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1853 he went to Düsseldorf (whence his family had emigrated) to study at its Academy with Karl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880) and Andreas Achenbach (1815-1910). Fellow students included the Americans Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) and Worthington Whittredege (1820-1910). Instruction at the Academy stressed careful draftsmanship, attention to detail, and a high degree of finish.
Bierstadt's style began to lose favor by the 1880s, as many younger artists and connoisseurs found his work thoroughly old-fashioned, although it was still sought by some collectors.Today, however, the artist’s place in the history of American art is secure. While he is often grouped with the painters of the Hudson River School, his work is quite different from theirs both in its technique and in the regions he depicted. His paintings are in most of the major public collections of nineteenth-century American art, including the Brooklyn Museum
, the United States Capitol, the Corcoran Gallery of Art
in Washington, D.C., the High Museum of Art
in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts
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