Born in Germany in 1830 and moving with his family to the United States only two years later, little else is known about artist Albert Bierstadt until he began studying painting at the Dusseldorf School in Germany from 1853 to 1857. By 1859 however Bierstadt was back in the United States, becoming a member of the Hudson River School of art, an informal approach to painting and not a formal institution, and heading into the American West to capture dramatic landscapes across his large canvases.
It was his reliance on such large scale paintings that first earned him negative comments from his contemporaries and critics, though he was continually popular with the public. He admitted to altering scenes in order to create better effects, actually painting things as he saw best.
He was able to rely on some of the Hudson River School techniques of glowing and romantic light to achieve the looks that won him such broad and popular success. Critics however never warmed to his work, commenting on his over reliance of certain elements, such as light, fog and mist, to create artificial drama. It must be remembered however that Bierstadt was creating romantic images of the American West during its final years of popular interest and mystery. Following the American Civil War, westward expansion would effectively reduce much of the "unknown" about the environment, and Bierstadt's canvases captured it during its final period as an untamed and dramatic location.
Critical disapproval never affected Bierstadt's professional life, however, and he saw enormous sums for his canvases throughout his career. There is no official count of the number of completed works he created, though a range of five hundred to four thousand have been estimated. He remains one of the most well known American landscape artists, and his work is reproduced on commercial prints and was used by the United States Postal Service in 1998 in a set of commemorative stamps entitled "Four Centuries of American Art".
Bierstadt died in 1902, just as popular as ever. His work can be seen in most major American art galleries and museums, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, N.Y. and the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco, California, among dozens of others.