Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bierstadt, Albert

California Spring
oil on canvas
187.3 x 264.2 cm
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA

Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. He was the foremost painter to portray the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The paintings by him were often oversized, highly colorful and portrayed the immense distances and scale of the American West. His use of vivid colors and inspiring scenery have made him one of the most popular artists of the American West and made him the most popular artist of the 1870's. His works were highly sought after and graced many a wall in museums in both the United States and around the world.

Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany. His family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1831. He developed a taste for art early and made clever crayon sketches in his youth. Despite prodding from his family to not become an artist, he persisted and produced his first oil painting at the age of 21.

Though his paintings sold for princely sums, he was not held in particularly high esteem by critics of his day. His use of uncommonly large canvases was thought to be an egotistical indulgence, as his paintings would invariably dwarf those of his contemporaries when they were displayed together. The romanticism evident in his choices of subject and in his use of light was felt to be excessive by contemporary critics. His paintings emphasized atmospheric elements like fog, clouds and mist to accentuate and complement the feel of his work. He sometimes changed details of the landscape to inspire awe. The colors he used are also not always true. He painted what he believed was the way things should be: water is ultramarine, vegetation is lush and green, etc.

In 1860 he was elected a member of the National Academy; he received medals in Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, and Germany; and his paintings remain popular. He was a prolific artist, having completed possibly as many as 4000  paintings during his lifetime. Many are scattered through museums around the United States. The popularity of Albert Bierstadt among the art crowd began to wane in the 1890's.