Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) In the Mountains This painting is called “In the Mountains”. Does anybody remember what this sort of painting is called? (Landscape) Can you guess where the artist might have painted this landscape? This artist became famous for his paintings of the American West. Have you ever gone hiking or camping and been in a place that looks like this? (Allow a few guesses and ask the students to tell you why they think it is the area they mentioned.) This piece could possibly depict the Yosemite Valley. But the artist used many photos and sketches as references for his painting that we cannot be sure of the authenticity of the scenery. Artist Biography In 1832 a ship leaving Dusseldorf carrying whale oil took aboard the Bierstadts (BEER-stats), a family of seven who were bound for the United States. The family included the youngest, a 2-year-old named Albert. Albert Bierstadt was born in humble circumstances in Solingen, Germany. Albert’s mother Christina Bierstadt didn’t want to raise her children in the unsettled atmosphere of their native Germany. The country still reverberated from the Napoleonic wars and Albert’s parents wanted to look for a stable country to raise their children. America with its golden shores was a popular choice for many. The Bierstadts settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts were Albert’s father was a barrel maker. There were three sons and two daughters, both of whom, for some unknown reason, were named Anna. Very little has been documented concerning Albert’s childhood. He attended a local school, where, according to a schoolmate, Albert always seemed clumsy and never knew his lessons. This picture of a lummox doesn’t seem consistent with some historians’ belief that Albert had worked as a cake decorator or picture framer prior to leaving for his art training. Albert was also characterized as a “boy who no one thought would ever amount to anything.” There seems to be odd memories of a man who later achieved such success! There were many artists living in New Bedford at the time and there was a new attitude, most likely brought about by prosperity, that painting was an acceptable occupation. Generally, since painting is viewed as a luxury, artists fare better during prosperous times. The first substantial history on Bierstadt was an advertisement written by Albert himself in May of 1850. The ad offered to teach students “to execute good pictures at their attempt, far superior to their own expectations.” It was a bargain at $3.00 per 24 hours of instruction! Even though he had substantial local success, he knew he would never be a real artist without training in Europe. He had limited funds but was fortunate enough to receive the sponsorship of a local New Bedford gentleman. During his sojourn in Europe, Bierstadt learned from artists he worked with, some from observation, and much from just the act of painting and painting. He studied painting for three years at the prestigious Dusseldorf Akademie. He was frugal with his limited funds and frequently turned down dinner invitations if he thought he might have to reciprocate. He survived because he had left some pictures at home to be sold and he continued to sell his work in Europe. With those two sources of income he managed to keep going. Bierstadt traveled a lot within Europe. On one instance he and a friend climbed Mount Vesuvius at midnight to make sure that they could paint the volcano at first light. At sunrise the next day they sat upon the still warm lava and cooked their breakfast of sausages and eggs in the sizzling cracks of the volcano! It is believed his European experiences led him to revel in painting landscapes with a lot of detail. When he returned to the United States in 1857, he began painting with a dedication and energy that continued for most of his life. He received some acclaim and shortly thereafter he made his first trip west. Bierstadt joined a team called the Pacific Coast Railway Survey who looked at and surveyed possible railroad sites. He was not hired by the railroad due to their stringent budget, but sketched and photographed during numerous trips over a period of 4 years. Some critics felt his painting of the West was only an exploitation of the market for that sort of art, but Bierstadt’s exhibition of “The Rocky Mountains” at the New York Fair brought him immediate fame. He married twice; the first one was a long and happy marriage to Rosalie. The second one seemed to be one of convenience to a wealthy widow. She liked his renown and connections and he, her finances. At one point in his career Bierstadt met General John C. Fremont (one four major generals appointed by President Lincoln) and Fremont purchased a paining of his. Later in his life he lived in California, he and Fremont were neighbors. His style of painting lost favor about 1875, and although he still worked and exhibited, he died largely forgotten man. Painting Description Bierstadt has used all the elements of art well in this painting but for which elements does it stand out? (Light and Shadow) The clear, transparent quality of the light through the background haze makes the snowcapped peaks appear miles away and also gives a sense of temperature – crisp coldness. The use of light/shadow element in the lake helps create perfect reflections imparting a breathtaking stillness. This painting and others like it are special because they did something wonderful for our country. How many of you have ever gone to a National Park? Yosemite, Yellowstone? Almost a hundred years ago, in the days when Albert Bierstadt lived there were no such places as National Parks. In fact many city people didn’t realize that there was so much untouched beauty. So, due to paintings like Bierstadt’s there was interest in preserving the natural beauty of such places in our country. This interest prompted our government, headed by President Theodore Roosevelt to establish the National Park System, with the Yellowstone being the first. There parks are places where scenery, wildlife, and history are protected and kept natural so that all Americans can enjoy their national heritage and unspoiled beauty. Our composer, Jean Sibelius, also loved the beauty of nature. He translated its sights, sounds, textures, and fragrances into beautiful music about his country, “Finlandia”.