Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902)

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Bierstadt's subject is the vast scale and awe-inspiring effect of fog-shrouded mountains and wilderness. Though it is entitled Alaska, the actual site may be in British Columbia or Washington.

Bierstadt searched America's wildest regions for his romantic vistas.

Albert Bierstadt in the Pacific Northwest

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Albert Bierstadt came to New Bedford, Massachusetts, with his family when he was a baby. He returned to Düsseldorf in 1853 to study at the Royal Academy. He traveled throughout Europe with fellow students Sanford Gifford and Worthington Whittredge. Bierstadt returned to America in 1857. One year later, he began painting the Rocky Mountains, which was a subject he would return to often. He made numerous trips to the West, painting and exhibiting in California. In 1865, he built a home on the Hudson River near New York City, but his fame lies in his landscapes of the American West. Soon after the United States occupied the Alaska territory, many artists, including Bierstadt, painted in the area. In 1889, Bierstadt traveled to Alaska on the steamer Ancon. The Ancon was wrecked and Bierstadt, along with the other passengers, stayed in Indian huts and salmon canneries for five days until the next steamer brought them back to Vancouver. During that time, Bierstadt created sixty studies and two books of drawings of Alaska.

Alaska was probably done in the artist’s studio from sketches made during his ill-fated voyage on board the Ancon. The artist’s subject is the vast scale of the fog-shrouded mountains and wilderness. The group of Indian hunters and the dark forest add to the scene’s mystery and must have suggested to nineteenth century viewers a place on the edge of their imagination. The canvas expresses Bierstadt’s sense of wonder before the vast untamed wilderness.

Anderson, Nancy K. and Linda S. Ferber. Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise. Manchester, Vermont: Hudson Hills Press, 1991.

Object Information

Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902)
creation date
about 1889
oil on canvas
14 x 20 in.
25-1/2 x 35-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. Addison Bybee
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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