German-born American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School was best known for his magnificent depictions of the Rocky Mountains and panoramic views of the American West. He was one of the few American romantic landscape painters.
Albert Bierstadt was born January 7, 1830 in Solingen, Germany. His family immigrated to the United States in 1833 and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts when he was two years old. Largely self-taught, he participated in a few local art exhibitions and worked teaching monochromatic painting. To further his art education, he traveled home to Germany in 1853 and studied painting for three years at the Düsseldorf Akademie. The Düsseldorf School encouraged the use of dramatic lighting and meticulous brushstrokes which became the trademark of his career. He and Worthington Whittredge, a fellow American painter whom he met in Germany, visited Europe before his return to the United States. Time spent in Switzerland inspired Bierstadt’s painting ‘Lake Lucerne’ (1858).
In 1858, Albert Bierstadt was employed by General Frederick Landers to take part in a government survey expedition that would explore a new wagon route to California. Quick to accept an opportunity to view America’s fabled range of mountains, he produced several panoramas of the Rockies and other Western sceneries in the form of sketches and oil studies. He returned again and again to those regions throughout his lifetime in order to capture their wonder on canvas, creating works that titled him America's most popular painter. Scenes from Yosemite and the Rocky Mountains featuring Native Americans in their natural habitat had a powerful impact on the public, and even inspired some people to take the trek Westward for a personal experience of its beauty.
From his New York City studio, he produced works during the 1860’s and 70’s that were exhibited at The Boston Athenaeum (1859-1864), Brooklyn Art Association (1861 to 1879), and Boston Art Club (1873- 1880). Two famous works from this period include: ‘Sunset in the Yosemite Valley’ (1869) and the popular ‘Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak’ (1864). During those years, he was awarded memberships with the National Academy of Design and the Century Association.
In 1866, Albert Bierstadt married Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, the divorced wife of writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. They lived in style at the ‘Malkasten’, a grand estate that featured a view of the river at Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. Rosalie became ill with tuberculosis, and that marked the beginning of troubled times.
In 1882, Malkastan burned to the ground destroying some great paintings. A growing interest in French Impressionism hindered Bierstadt’s popularity, and soon he was facing hard times, both personally and financially. Rosalie’s battle with tuberculosis ended with her death in 1893. The artist later married Mary Hicks Stewart, but could not get his art career back on track. Subsequently, he faced bankruptcy in 1895. Bierstadt died in New York City in 1902 at the age of seventy-two. Colorado’s Mount Albert Bierstadt was named in his honor. The renewed interest in romantic painting that came about in the 1940’s brought his work back into view.