Explain in detail how the work of art reflects the person who created it and how it exemplifies the specific era in which it was created. Be explicit. Then give a brief biography on the artist.
German born and schooled Albert Bierstadt is one of the most well-known landscape painters in American history. He had a great love of the American West and took part in many expeditions across it, during which he painted many of the natural sites he saw. He was particularly fond of mountain ranges and dramatic lighting was one of his main specialties. Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains is one of his most effective uses of this lighting.
This painting presents the viewer with a romantic view of a valley, situated between the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The painting is luminous and the artist has made it appear as if the sun is shining out from behind the mountains. Pink and yellow hues give it a fairy-tale like appearance and the artist has used shading and lighting to create the look of mist throughout the area. The scene is placid, peaceful and isolated from the rest of the world. Each of these features reflects the involvement of the painter, Albert Bierstadt.
The romantic stylings of the painting show Bierstadt’s hand in it. Bierstadt had a romantic view of the American West, and, in 1868 when the painting was createtd, he had even more reason to present a romantic version of it, as he was newly married to his wife, Rosalie Osborn. The two had erected a home in Irvington together, overlooking the Hudson River. The fact that Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a romantic painting alone shows Bierstadt’s hand in it. Romanticism had become less popular at the time this painting was created, but Bierstadt shunned trends and continued to pursue it – perhaps in order to make a statement.
The era in which Bierstadt was painting was a very turbulent time. The Civil War had ravaged the country from 1861-1865 and had resulted in the deaths of more 620,000 Americans. During the following years, the country went through a period of reconstruction, during which tensions and resentment flared. Bierstadt, a man inclined toward peace, may have used his paintings to try to help soothe the minds of his fellow Americans. If ever there had been a time in which scenes of peace and placidity were needed in America – Bierstadt’s era was it. Indeed, Miller writes the following:
Bierstad’s painting speaks to the virtues of retreat from history into nature. It is purged of references to the present, or to the symbolic language of war and strife that found its way into so many works of landscape art in these years. There is little suggestion of a world beyond the closed, shrine-like composition of the painting, except a tiny patch of blue visible through the treetops.
While romantic, Among the Sierra Nevadas also displays features that are very realistic. Bierstadt’s reflections, trees, mountains and lighting look so real that a person might think they were looking at a photograph instead of a painting. This, too, reflects Bierstadt’s touch. He often based his work on photographs. According to Biagell “We know that stereographs and photographs were taken during Bierstadt’s first western journey and that his brothers were photographers.” Biagell does not know if Bierstadt himself took any pictures, he says that the artist did have “continued access to photographic documentation” while working on some of his paintings. (Biagell) The realism, romanticism and calming nature of Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains well reflect Bierstadt’s romantic, but real hope for peace in the West.
- “Biography.” 2002. Albert Bierstadt: The Complete Works. Online. 18 March 2015.
- Miller, Angela. “Albert Bierstadt, Landscape Aesthetics, and the Meanings of the West in the Civil War Era.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies (2001): 40-59.
- Pittsburgh Commercial. “Albert Bierstadt.” The Pittsburgh Commercial (1866): 2. Online. The History Channel. “American Civil War.” 2015. History. Online. 18 March 2015.