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Albert Bierstadts Among the Sierra Nevada
Mountains in California is a scenic canvas oil
painting on display at the National Museum of
American Art in Washington, DC. Created in 1868,
this enormous painting is approximately six by ten
feet in size (Honour and Fleming, 2000). The
subject matter of this piece is typical of
Bierstadt, who is known for his detailed
landscapes, especially those of the Rockies and
Sierras of the American West. Collectively,
Alberts works are manipulated and slightly
idealized scenes based on actual places he
visited. Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) was born in
Germany and at the age of two, he moved with his
parents to Massachusetts. In his early twenties,
he studied art in Dusseldorf, Germany.

He traveled
between the U.S. and Europe throughout his life
and painted mostly for private collectors. Between
1859 and 1889, he traveled through the West on six
different occasions where he drew inspiration for
many of his paintings (Encarta, 2000). During his
visits, Albert drew numerous sketches, which later
became the basis for his works. Bierstadts
brother, who was a photographer, accompanied him
on several of his travels across the U.S. and upon
seeing the landscapes from the photographs; Albert
was driven to paint these spectacular scenes from
nature for people in the East.

Bierstadts
paintings combine both European and American
influences. Although the subject matter in 19th
century Europe consisted of mainly historical
anecdotes with a movement towards Realism,
Bierstadt painted conventional American subject
matter of landscapes and still life with German
style. Because of Alberts broad background, his
depiction of mountains often takes on an Alpine
flavor (Encarta, 2000). Bierstadt was one of the
premier American landscape painters of the 1800s
and was well known in both the U.S. and Europe.
Although Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a
reflection of the American West, it was painted
far from the U.S. This particular painting was
created in Rome and displayed in Berlin, London
and Paris (Honour and Fleming, 2000).

It depicts a
photographic-like scene of a lake beneath the
rocky cliffs of mountains. Breaking through the
dark clouds after a summer storm, sunlight
reflects off of a glassy lake with mirrored images
of the mountains above. The trees on the right and
the cliffs on the left create a v in the center of
the painting, which draws the viewers eye towards
the lower center. At this point, a small waterfall
comes down the center of the mountain and empties
into the lake. Distant snowcapped peaks are
present in the center right part of scene, where
clouds consume parts of the mountains. The cliffs
on the right appear smooth in comparison to the
rough woods edge and larger mountains on the left.
These two elements seem to balance each other, and
a diamond of light is created in the center.
Darker clouds cover the top left and right hand
corners adding to this effect.

The middle ground
is somewhat dark and spotlights of sun dramatize
the spectacular scenery. The foreground containing
short grasses and the lake is smooth and as the
eye moves upward the scenery gets progressively
rougher. Bierstadt shows his German background in
the style of this painting. Carefully placed
highlights of sun streaming from the top and dark
shadows provide dramatic lighting often present in
European painting of the same time period (Honour
and Fleming, 2000). With oil painting, many layers
of different oil colors are layered on top of each
other and brush strokes are often visible. In this
piece, brush strokes are barely visible and the
surface is smooth in texture suggesting the
photographic realism of a camera.

A looser,
perhaps more American style, was used in painting
the clouds. Swirling clouds at the top of the
scene gives the picture a sense of airiness and an
almost mystical god-like quality. The rest of the
landscape is meticulously detailed. It appears to
be an idealized picture of nature, but
imperfections are shown in the crooked shapes of
the tree trunks and the fallen tree in the lower
right hand corner. This painting also has warmness
to it, which is evident in the yellow hues of the
sky backdrop and the small waterfowl and deer by
the lakes edge. In its entirety, this painting is
a realistic yet semi-idealized view of nature.

The
perspective is designed to draw the viewer into
the painting. Seemingly the viewer is looking from
a vantage point that is higher than the foreground
as though one is looking down towards the lake and
up into the mountains. This suggests that the
landscape was manipulated to create a balanced and
unique view that may not be physically possible.
Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California
depicts natures beauty in a peaceful quiet
solitude way as to entice the viewer to experience
the wilderness first hand. When this was painted
in the19th century, America began to make small
efforts to preserve and conserve the wilderness.
Writers like George Perkins Marsh, who published
Man and Nature in 1864, warned of the destruction
and waste of Americas resources (Encarta, 2000).
After growing concern, national forests, parks and
wildlife reserves were established primarily by
Theodore Roosevelt. The frontier was seen as a
place for continuous generation of democracy,
social progress, economic growth, and national
growth. The wilderness was seen as a source of
wealth and strength drawing people to explore and
experience nature.

Through paintings like
Bierstadts, the viewer could have this experience
without having to travel a great distance.
Intended for private display, now Among the Sierra
Nevada Mountains in California is on public
display as it portrays an important part of our
American history. Not only is this painting
pleasing to the eye with its detailed majestic
mountains, it gives the viewer an idealized view
of natures grandeur. Bierstadt, Albert. Microsoft
Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000.
http://encarta.msn.com (21 Nov. 2000) Honour and
Fleming. The Visual Arts: A History.

Prentice
Hall: New Jersey, 2000. Bibliography:.

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