Van Gogh •
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Albert Bierstadt, born near Düsseldorf, Germany, was the leading painter of what may be thought of as the Rocky Mountain
section of the Hudson River School. He came to the United States in 1832 and spent his boyhood in Massachusetts. He
produced his first oil painting when he was twenty-one, and two years later went back to Düsseldorf where he remained for
four years, learning to paint in the approved nineteenth-century German Romantic manner. Bierstadt returned to America in
1857 and spent a summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, sketching and taking photographs of scenery. In 1858, he
joined a government expedition to the Rocky Mountains, where he made quick sketches in oil, never taking more than fifteen
minutes to portray a scene. His aim was to rework these sketches in his studio to get the best effects possible from the
picturesque and unknown scenery. Since he was not interested in exactitude, he altered the scenery for dramatic weight and
thus distinguished himself from the meticulously naturalistic Hudson River artists
Thomas Cole, Frederick Edwin Church, and Asher B. Durand. Bierstadt's
works are dramatically lit and colored almost to a formula: ice-blue water; richly green foregrounds sharply
distinguished from blue and green mountains which fade hazily into the distance, capped with fluffy clouds that make bright
reflections; and genre elements-animals, Indians, soldiers, settlers-in the immediate foreground.
Both as original oils and as engravings, Bierstadt's works were very successful, not only in the United States, but also in
Europe, where his works fortified the conception of the wildness of the young nation. Before long, he could command prices
of up to $35,000 for a large oil canvas, and his works adorned the castles of Europe and the homes of American millionaires.
European critics praised his work, and he was awarded medals in Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Belgium, and France. He chose,
however, to remain in the United States, and he built a huge castle, Malkasten, overlooking the Hudson, where he lived and
worked until his death.