Painter and photographic pioneer Albert Bierstadt was the fourth son born to Henry and Christina Tillmans Bierstadt in Solingen, Germany on January 7, 1830. When he was two, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts. There are no records of any formal educational instruction, and so historians believe his artistic training was self-taught. By age 20, Mr. Bierstadt was an accomplished painter and became a monochromatic painting teacher while exhibiting his own works throughout New Bedford. By 1851, he was also a promoter of magic lanterns, and it is believed his interest in photography began with his partnership with daguerreotypist Peter Fales.
Hoping to benefit from a professional artistic education, he returned to Dusseldorf in 1853 to attend the Dusseldorf Academy. There, he learned the importance of effective lighting and painstaking brushstrokes, which became his trademark style. While there, he opened a studio with American artist Worthington Whittredge, and together they painted and sketched the breathtaking European landscapes. After returning to the United States, Mr. Bierstadt established a studio and began making paintings of his travel photographs. In December of 1857, the Boston Athenaeum purchased his painting, The Portico of Octavia Rome, which provided him with both much-needed income and established his professional reputation. Two years later, a visit with his brother Edward reignited his passion for photography, which at that time was still in its infancy.
In 1859, Mr. Bierstadt was invited by Colonel Frederick W. Lander to join his expedition to improve roads for easier travel to the West. He, Francis Seth Frost, and other artists documented the improvements through sketches, paintings, and photographs. While in St. Joseph, Missouri, Mr. Bierstadt composed several stereographs of emigrant trains, views of the local ferry, and miners headed for Pike's Peak. Fascinated by the unspoiled beauty of the Rocky Mountains, he painted and photographed a series that critics have described collectively as "a Western Eden." For inspiration, he would make subsequent visits to the West in 1863, 1866, and 1872.
Returning East, Mr. Bierstadt joined his older brothers Charles and Edward to open the Bierstadt Brothers photographic studio in their hometown of New Bedford. He then opened his own independent studio in New York and began working on his enormous panoramic landscape canvases of the American West. The largest of these canvases – 9-1/2 feet high and 15 feet wide – emphasized the vastness of this majestically rugged terrain. In the summer of 1860, the Bierstadt Brothers published a successful catalog that contained 52 stereographs made during the Lander Expedition. Four years' later, when the views of Lander's Peak and the Rocky Mountains were exhibited at the New York City Sanitary Fair, Albert Bierstadt became an international artistic sensation. He built a mansion he named Malkastan, and married Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, the former wife of his mentor, writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow.
Fame would prove fleeting for Mr. Bierstadt, and during the next several years, his wife would contract tuberculosis, from which she succumbed in 1893, and his beloved Malkastan burned to the ground, destroying several of his paintings. He found personal happiness in his second marriage to Mary Hicks Stewart, but by now, his realistic naturalism was considered stylistically outdated. He died suddenly and virtually forgotten on February 18, 1902 at the age of 72. In 1998, the United States Postal Service reintroduced Albert Bierstadt to a new generation by issuing “Four Centuries of American Art,” 20 commemorative stamps that included his work, The Last of the Buffalo.
2011 Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) (URL: http://www.sullivangoss.com/albert_Bierstadt).
2002 Albert Bierstadt Biography (URL: http://www.albertbierstadt.org/biography.html).
2002 Chronology of the American West (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.), pp. 138-139.
2009 Musical Meaning and Human Values (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press), pp. 120-122.
2005 Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary 1839-1865 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 108-109.
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