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Albert Bierstadt

"Albert Bierstadt was among the most energetic, industrious, and internationally honored American artists of the nineteenth century. Born in humble circumstances in Solingen, Germany, he emigrated at age two to America with his parents and his two brothers. The family settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father became established as a barrelmaker. Little is known about Bierstadt's rearing or early artistic training, but he was advertising himself as an instructor in monochromatic painting in New Bedford in 1850, the same year he exhibited thirteen of those works and one drawing in Boston. His collaboration during the next three years with a daguerreotypist who produced theatrical presentations of American scenery laid the foundation for his lifelong interests in photography and North American topography.
"In 1853, Bierstadt returned to Europe to study at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in Germany and to travel extensively on the Continent. Although he had entered that period of formal training with only rudimentary capabilities, he emerged from it an ambitious, technically proficient master whose tastes for European scenery and society had been considerably enhanced in the process. On his return to New Bedford, he quickly became the city's most prominent artist, organizing in 1858 a large exhibition of paintings - including fifteen of his own works - that brought him to national attention. His career decisively expanded in 1859, when he traveled to the territories of Colorado and Wyoming, for a time in the company of a United States government survey expedition headed by Colonel Frederick W. Lander. The purpose of Bierstadt's trip was to procure sketches for a series of large-scale landscape paintings of the American West. After he moved to the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York, he painted a sequence of canvases that secured his renown as a "western" artist and as the foremost competitor of Frederic E. Church in the field of monumental New World landscapes.

"Bierstadt rode the crest of success for the next decade. He made two additional western journeys, one in 1863, the other from 1871 to 1873. In the interval between, he married Rosalie Ludlow, built Malkasten, a magnificent mansion overlooking the river at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, and undertook a two-year tour of Europe, where he and his wife mingled with the créme de la créme of British and Continental society. At the same time, he was painting spectacular pictures of western scenery, which were widely exhibited in the United States and abroad and which commanded the highest prices in American art at the time. Bierstadt balanced that wealth by his selfless participation in numerous charitable organizations and events.

"Bierstadt's paintings began to attract adverse criticism in the mid-1860s. After 1880, his reputation substantially declined in the face of changing tastes, and he experienced a series of personal misfortunes that included the destruction by fire of Malkasten in 1882 and the death of his wife in 1893. Yet neither his public demeanor nor the plenitude of his artistic creativity was seriously hampered until the last years of his life. The sometimes uneven quality of his work, the stagey compositional effects to which he frequently resorted, and his sheer productivity tempted late-nineteenth-century writers and some twentieth-century observers to criticize him harshly. The temptation should be steadfastly resisted. Bierstadt's theatrical art, fervent sociability, international outlook, and unquenchable personal energy reflected the epic expansion in every facet of western civilization during the second half of the nineteenth century."

- From "American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School"