Albert Bierstadt

Portrait of Albert Bierstadt

Albert Bierstadt was a German-American painter born in Germany although he moved with his family to the United States when he was one year old. He is best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. He was a member of the Hudson River School in New York who produced detailed work of the area. He was born on 7th January 1830 in Solingen, Rhine Province, Germany and died on the 18th February 1902 in New York aged 72.

Major Works

Staubbach Falls, Near Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland (1856)
The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863)
The Domes of the Yosemite (1867)
The Emerald Pool (1870)
Bahamian View (c.1880)

Biography

Albert Bierstadt was born on 7th January 1830 in Solingen, Germany. He was the youngest of six children of Henry Bierstadt, a cooper, and Christina M. Tillmans. 

1832: The family emigrate to New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA which had a large whaling industry and Henry’s barrels were in high demand. The young Albert becomes interested in art at an early age and begins sketching and drawing.

1848 Gold is discovered in California and there is a major increase of the population moving westwards.

1850: He advertises that he is giving painting lessons in the local newspaper.

1851: Bierstadt begins to experiment with oil paints.

1853: He exhibits at the Massachusetts Academy of Fine Arts and visits New Hampshire’s White Mountains range. He then goes to Germany to study art at the Düsseldorf School of Painting. 

1857: He returns to New Bedford and takes up teaching again before devoting himself full time to drawing and painting. 

1858: He exhibits at the National Academy of Design in New York City. The critics are particularly impressed with his large painting of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. He is made an honorary member of the NAD. He moves to New York permanently and has a studio in a building in Tenth Street.

1859: Bierstadt travels west to the Rocky Mountains for the first time with Frederick W. Lander’s overland railway survey and he begins to take up the new art of photography. He sketches the scenery and the lives of the natives.

1860: He paints “Base of the Rocky Mountains” and sets up a photography business in New York City with his brothers Charles and Edward, which was to last until 1866.

1863: Bierstadt embarks on his second journey to the west and visits the Yosemite Valley and the Pacific Coast accompanied by the author Fitz Hugh Ludlow. He paints “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” which is highly praisedAfter their return home Ludlow and his wife Rosalie obtain a divorce leaving the way clear for Bierstadt to form a relationship with her. Later in the year he is called up for military service during the American Civil war but he pays for someone else to take his place. He is also commissioned by the US government to produce two paintings for the House Chamber in the Capitol Building in Washington DC. These became “Discovery of the Hudson” and “Entrance into Monterey”.

1864: His painting “Rocky Mountain” is exhibited at the New York Sanitary Fair.

1865: With money now coming in from his painting he is able to buy five acres of land in New York State and builds his home and studio called “Malkasten” in Irvington overlooking the Hudson River.

1866: Bierstadt and Rosalie are married and they spend the next two years touring Europe. In London they are granted an audience with Queen Victoria and in Paris he is awarded the Legion of Honour. In Rome, the couple meet the composer Franz Liszt

1868: Once back in America he makes another trip to the Yosemite and Sierra Nevada areas. 

1869: The transcontinental railway is completed. 

1870: Bierstadt visits New England and New Hampshire with his brother Edward. In New Hampshire he paints one of his most famous works “Emerald Pool”.  By now he has become linked with second-generation Hudson River School who chose locations far away from the Hudson area.

1871: He visits San Francisco in July on the new transcontinental railway.

1873: He returns to New York in October and finally finishes Discovery of the Hudson”.

1875: “The Discovery of the Hudson” is displayed for the first time in the United States Capitol Building.

1876: He is a guest of President Rutherford B Hayes in the White House. In the autumn Rosalie is diagnosed with tuberculosis and is advised by her doctor to move somewhere warmer. The Bierstadt’s stay in the Bahamas during the winter months where he paints local tropical landscapes and seascapes. Bierstadt’s work for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial was however not well received and marks a turning point in his career.

1878: He paints “The Shore of the Turquoise Sea”.

1880: The Shore of the Turquoise Sea” is exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York and is his last major exhibition.

1881: Bierstadt travels to the Yellowstone Park for the first time.

1882: His house, Malkasten, burns down and many of his paintings are lost.

1886: He fills a whole room at the Industrial Exposition in Minneapolis. 

1889: Bierstadt submits “The Last Buffalo” for the Paris Exposition Universelle and “The Landing of Columbus” for World’s Columbian Exposition but both are rejected.

1893: Rosalie dies.

1894: Bierstadt marries a wealthy widow, Mary Hicks Stewart, the widow of David Stewart, a banker from Boston.

 1895: Due to his extravagant lifestyle he has to declare bankruptcy. He sells his property and 150 paintings to pay his creditors.

Albert Bierstadt died suddenly on 18th February 1902 in New York City and is buried at the Rural Cemetery in New Bedford, Massachusetts beside his parents.

Further Information

Examples of paintings by Bierstadt.