Albert Bierstadt was born on January 7, 1830, in Dusseldorf, Germany. He died on February 19, 1902, in New York after a long and successful career. He painted landscapes and gained enormous fame thanks to his expansive depictions of the American West. Like Frederick Church and Thomas Moran, Bierstadt belonged to the final group of painters linked with the Hudson River school who traveled great distances in quest of more unusual subject matter.

The large canvases he produced as a result of his several visits to the West, such as The Rocky Mountains (1863; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) and Mount Corcoran, helped him gain notoriety (c. 1875–77; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). The enormous works created at his New York studio lack the spontaneity and freshness of the smaller on-the-spot paintings from which they sprang. However, they are enormous in scope and grandiose in impact. To convey awe and majesty, Bierstadt freely changed landscape features.

In this article, let’s look at the sources of inspiration that Bierstadt drew on that made him such an excellent painter. We hope you’ll find an anchor for your creative inspiration from his story.

Early Life

He was the child of cooper Henry Bierstadt and Christina M. (Tillmans). Edward and Charles Bierstadt, two well-known stereo-view photographers, were his older brothers. When Albert’s family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1831, he was only a year old. He created creative crayon sketches in his early years and acquired an art appreciation.

Bierstadt started working with oils in 1851. In 1853, he went to Germany and spent several years studying painting in Düsseldorf among members of the city’s unofficial school of painting. He briefly taught drawing and painting after arriving back in New Bedford in 1857 before deciding to focus solely on painting.

Bierstadt became passionate about art at a young age, and even though he had trouble finding paints, he still enjoyed making drawings and sketches with crayons. Although Albert later remembered his childhood as being happy, little was known about them. However, it is known that while he was still a teenager, he worked with English-born landscape painter George Harvey on a traveling exhibition in which Harvey projected pictures of Albert Bierstad’s paintings onto a tiny theater screen (for an entrance charge of 25 cents).

Early Training

Most of Bierstadt’s education came through self-teaching, and he began working as a drawing instructor in New Bedford when he was twenty. After a year, he started experimenting with oil paintings. In addition, he first displayed thirteen of his pieces in Boston at the New England Art Union. Then, in 1853, following an exhibition at the Massachusetts Academy of Fine Arts and a visit to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, he set off for northern Europe, intending to enroll at the Düsseldorf School. Albert Bierstadt style of painting was profoundly impacted by his time in Europe.

The Düsseldorf School was led by artists associated with the German Romanticism movement, including Andreas Achenbach, Karl Friedrich Lessing, Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, and Hans Fredrik Gude. These artists were proponents of artwork en plein air, which means in the open air, and their pieces frequently contained allusions to religion.

While in Düsseldorf, Bierstadt sought out the American landscape painter Worthington Whittredge and the German-American historical painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze in the hopes that they could persuade Achenbach to accept him as a student. However, they considered Bierstadt’s artwork excessively ornate and persuaded him to believe the myth that Achenbach did not accept new students.

For four years, Bierstadt lived in Europe and worked on his art exclusively. He traveled with Whittredge across Germany, Switzerland, and Italy during his final year in Europe (where he spent the winter months visiting Rome, Naples, and Capri). Finally, in 1857, the artist returned to New Bedford. Before focusing solely on his own art, he briefly taught drawing and painting.

Puget Sound On The Pacific Coast – Albert Bierstadt


A giant painting of Lake Lucerne in the Swiss Alps that Bierstadt placed in the National Academy of Design’s annual show in the spring of 1858 won praise from reviewers in New York (NAD). He left such a lasting impression that the NAD made him an honorary member a few weeks later. He relocated and established himself in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York. 

The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, one of Bierstadt’s most celebrated paintings, quickly earned him a solid reputation for depicting the rugged American West. Alongside his brothers Charles and Edward, he also started a prosperous photography business in New York City during this period (from 1860 to 1866).

Bierstadt was enlisted in the army in 1863 but paid another person to take his place. His painting, Rocky Mountains, was displayed at the New York Sanitary Fair the next year alongside the highly regarded landscape artist Frederic Edwin Church. James Jackson Jarves, a well-known art critic, complimented it for showcasing “an unparalleled representation of American light.” With his fame on the rise, Bierstadt established “Malkasten,” a residence and studio near Irvington, upstate New York, with a view of the Hudson River, in 1865.

Bierstadt came to be identified with the so-called Hudson River School of the second generation. Because they traveled to more remote domestic places than the nearby Hudson region, the artists were regarded as “second.” Bierstadt became associated with Manifest Destiny by bringing the enormous American West to an appreciable level of national consciousness.

Source of Inspiration

Bierstadt made multiple trips to the American West. Col. Frederick Lander accompanied him on his first journey, which they made in 1859, along the Oregon Trail to South Pass in modern-day Wyoming. 

In 1863, he made a second expedition to Yosemite. Then, in 1881, he made his first trip to Yellowstone National Park, and in 1883, he returned to Yosemite. He last traveled to the West in 1889.

The scenes of the American West and the lifestyle of the people of the West served as a primary source of inspiration for Albert Bierstadt’s paintings. Many of his paintings were centered around these subjects, and he was able to give excellent, detailed descriptions in his paintings that increased the intrigue in the ways of the West.

As historian Anne F. Hyde stated, “Bierstadt painted the West as Americans hoped it would be, which made his paintings vastly popular and reinforced the perception of the West as either Europe or sublime Eden.”


Other second-generation artists from the Hudson River school, such as Asher B. Durand, John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Thomas Moran, and Frederic Edwin Church, Bierstadt achieved fame for his sweeping panoramas of the American environment in the nineteenth century.

But the attention he paid to the uncharted American West separated Bierstadt (and Moran) from his fellow Hudson School students. In this way, he played a part in introducing America’s wild places to the general people. In fact, his depictions of an American “Promised Land” influenced the national imagination and motivated a new wave of explorers and settlers to head west.

Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry were renowned painters of the American Regionalism movement of the 1930s. They demonstrated their debt to the Hudson River School by concentrating on detailed, realistic, and frequently idealized images of rural America when a huge segment of people had grown weary of urban life and modernity. Although the style of Albert Bierstadt’s art and the Hudson River School artists eventually fell out of favor in the late 19th century.

Rocky Mountain Landscape 1870 – Albert Bierstadt


Albert Bierstadt was a trailblazer in paintings depicting the Wild West. His excellent work raised national awareness regarding the American West. In addition, he was able to take inspiration from the scenes he saw on his many travels to the American West.

By Manali