He who knows how to appreciate colour relationships, the influence of one colour on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.
- Sonia Delaunay
Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.
- Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.
 

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Albert Bierstadt

Posted by Charley Parker at 8:07 am

Albert Bierstadt - Yosemite Valley
By the time Albert Bierstadt began painting his dramatic landscapes in the middle of the 19th Century, the mountains of New York’s Hudson valley, once the epitome of the American wilderness, had been widely portrayed by two generations of painters, from Thomas Cole and Asher Durand to Frederick Church, John Frederick Kensett and the Luminists.

Church himself would travel to South America in search of even more dramatic and unspoiled wilderness, but Bierstadt found his calling in the still wild American west.

Bierstadt was brought to America at the age of two when his parents emigrated here from Germany. Little is known about his early artistic training, it may have consisted only of resources available in and around the tiny town of New Bedford, Massachusetts where his parents had settled. In his early 20′s, Bierstadt traveled back to Germany to study in Dusseldorf, returning a few years later to paint scenes of New England and the mountains of New York.

In search of ever more wild and dramatic vistas, Bierstadt took several journeys west, one of them on the wagon train sent to chart a path for the Transcontinental Railroad. He would return to a studio in New York, a studio with exceptionally high ceilings that would accommodate his enormous canvasses, and he would translate his sketches and small paintings into grandly dramatic scenes that proved to be tremendously popular.

Bierstadt was tremendously impressed by the grandeur of the Rockies, which he felt bested even the Alps for drama, and was particularly struck by the Yosemitie Valley, which became the subject of numerous paintings. The image above (with detail at bottom) is simply titled Yosemitie Valley, and is not one of his larger paintings (60″ by 38″, 152cm x 96cm, larger version here).

I’ll suggest again, as I did in my post on Church, that I think it’s hard for us, jaded as we are by lifelong exposure to billboards, movie screens and other large scale images, to appreciate how much of a dazzling “special effect” was created at the time by large scale paintings like his, many of which were 8 foot by 10 foot (2.4m x 3m).

Bierstadt was often put down by critics of his day (and is still looked down on by contemporary critics) for the overly dramatic nature of his work. While I’ll admit that he didn’t pull any punches when it came to dazzling viewers with exaggeratedly rugged and “scenic” vistas, theatrical light, clouds, mist, shadow and other visual effects, in addition to the sheer size of his monumental canvasses, I don’t think that takes away from the enjoyment of his paintings.

In fact those elements are the great thing about his paintings, drama is the point (but of course, “serious” critics aren’t allowed to put their blessing on anything fun). Bierstadt had the last laugh, though, as his work sold for enormous sums. His paintings are still popular today (another problem for critics) and are widely reproduced. Many are readily available online and you’ll find his paintings in numerous books.

If you can, try to see one of Bierstadt’s large scale works in person to get the real effect. The Artcyclopedia has links to some museums with his work in their collections (and online).

Anyone interested in dramatic contemporary matte painting who is not familiar with Bierstadt will find in his work a textbook for how to paint dramatic landscape. The rest of us can just enjoy the journey across the great rugged face of the American west, oohing and aahing along the way.

5 comments for Albert Bierstadt »

RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Comment by Scott
    Wednesday, October 3, 2007 @ 11:51 pm

    Bierstadt was a master of landscapes. One of my favorite paintings of his is a little 12 X 24 inch “Boats Ashore at Sunset.”

  2. Comment by Morris Custy
    Sunday, September 14, 2008 @ 11:23 am

    You’ll enjoy this. I recently purchased the Yosemite Valley print at a garage sale. That day while watching the movie My Cousin Vinny I noticed the same print in one of the scenes in the hotel.
    Neat eh?

  3. Comment by José Antonio from spain
    Saturday, June 27, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

    I’m discovering now the north american painters, who are little known at my country. Fantastic! I think about Albert Bierstadt to be a genious. Their dramatic landscape, even by pictures showed into internet pages, touch my heart and my imagination.

  4. Comment by Val Niven
    Monday, May 17, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    I purchased this same print from EBAY in 2009,and was captivated by the beauty and colours of the print.I often wondered about where it was originally painted,and by whom.Then I saw another of the same print for sale(on EBAY)that had all the details of the artist,and where this picture was done.”Yosemitie”The artist had so much feeling,and put these feelings,and colours,on canvas.I think Albert Bierstadt was very gifted.I absolutely love “Yosemitie”

  5. Comment by peggy spencer
    Saturday, May 29, 2010 @ 5:27 am

    I moved in with a friend, and he gave me a painting from Albert Bierstadt and it was a Yosemite Valley, one of the most beautiful paintings I ever came across. The beauty inspires me.

Leave a comment

(required)

(required but not published)

 
Display Ads on Lines and Colors (1st tier): $25/week or $75/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.
Display Ads on Lines and Colors (2nd tier): $20/week or $65/month.

Please note that display ads for lines and colors are limited to arts related topics and may not be animated.




Donate Life

The Gift of a Lifetime