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Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Bierstadt was born and later educated in Germany, and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As one of America’s foremost landscape painters he was responsible for shaping a vision of America as the new Eden. His monumental canvases were based upon sketches and photographs he made in 1859, when he accompanied the federally sponsored Lander Survey to the Rocky Mountains.
Oregon Trail
Lander's Peak
Merced River
Mirror Lake
Lake Lucerne
Bridal Veil Falls


The Oregon Trail, 1869
Oil on canvas, 31 X 49" (78.74 x 124.46 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Butler Institute of American Art.

Albert Bierstadt went west for the first time in 1859, a young, ambitious painter in the party of Colonel Frederick W. Lander, who had been charged by the Interior Department to survey a new wagon route to California which would go north of Salt Lake and thus prevent further friction between emigrants and Mormons. Lander was also to placate the Native Americans whose trading would be disrupted by relocating the California and Oregon wagon trails that had been in use for years. The expedition offered the artist an opportunity to see America's fabled mountains, known to a fascinated public through written descriptions and photographs in black and white, and to encounter Native Americans in their natural setting. If the Rockies were as grand as the Alps, paintings of them would find buyers already enthusiastic at the prospects of westward expansion, especially merchants and boosters of the railroads.

When Bierstadt set out he was a better landscape painter than previous artists who had gone west, having studied for three years in Dusseldorf and painted in Italy. In Boston and his hometown of New Bedford, he was enjoying success with his paintings of landscape and European genre, due in no small measure to a talent for self-promotion.
Lander's expedition crossed Nebraska, and continued northwest following the North Fork of the Platte River into western Wyoming. Along the way Bierstadt sketched and took photographs of Native Americans and emigrants, some bound for Pike's Peak but others returning discouraged, like those he encountered near Fort Kearny with their 150 wagons. Yet three sketches published in 1859 as woodcuts in Harper's Weekly are among the very few Bierstadt images which include what was a common sight along the trail and the subject of The Oregon Trail: emigrants, animals, and wagons under way. By late June Bierstadt had left Lander, who continued on to California. Bierstadt stayed three weeks in the Wind River Mountains, sketching and photographing Native Americans and scenery. It was here, after exploring the mountains, that Bierstadt wrote a letter to The Crayon, an artistic journal, declaring the Rockies true rivals of the Alps and marking the beginning of his occupation with the subject which was to bring him fame and enormous fortune.
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