Albert Bierstadt, a German-American painter, was born on January 7, 1830 in Solingen, Germany. In 1833, his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. As a child he showed only casual interest in and talent for art, and he had little encouragement from his family.
From 1853 to 1857, he studied at the Royal Academy with landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing. His fellow students included Emmanuel Leutze, Sanford Gifford and Worthington Whittredge. During this time he traveled extensively throughout Europe, creating picturesque Old World sconces in the style that later became his trademark. Bierstadt returned to the United States in 1857, where he painted the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In 1858, he exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design in New York. Here he exhibited 14 works, including Lake Lucerne, which was one of the biggest in the exhibition. That same year, representatives of the Boston Atheneum purchased his painting, The Portico of Octavia for $400 dollars.
An 1859 lecture by Bayard Taylor on the American West stirred Bierstadt’s interest and played a large part in his future career. A year later, Bierstadt joined a western military expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander to survey wagon routes in the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming. During the expedition, he painted western scenes including landscapes, Indians and wildlife. Bierstadt was elected a full Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1860. In 1861, he visited army camps around Washington to paint Civil War scenes. The result included works such as The Bombardment of Fort Sumter.
In 1867, his painting Among the Sierra Mountains, California¸ was exhibited at the Royal Academy of London. He received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon III and the Order of the Stanislaus from the Czar of the Russias.
In 1871, Bierstadt traveled to California, and painted in the Sierra Nevadas, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. During the 1870s he executed a mural for the United States Capitol, which Congress allotted $20,000 for.
During the 1880s, his career had major setbacks with the increasing influence of the Barbizon and Impressionist styles from Europe. Bierstadt’s painting style was increasingly considered old fashioned and foolishly romantic. He continued to produce landscapes throughout the 1890s, and also became involved in the promotion of various inventions.
Albert Bierstadt died on February 18, 1902 in New York City. His paintings can be found in major public and private collections throughout North America and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the National Gallery of Canada.