Likely the most famous and financially successful late 19th-century painter of the American western landscape, Albert Bierstadt created grandiose, dramatic scenes of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas that lured many people to visit those sites. He was also one of the first artists to use a camera to record landscape views. His oil paintings, many of them huge, were the ultimate expression of the popular 19th-century Romanticism.
Bierstadt was born in Solingen, near Dusseldorf, Germany, and sailed as a baby with his family who settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1853, he returned to Dusseldorf where he studied at the Royal Academy with landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing. It was there he learned much attention to detail, respect for composition and skilled drawing. During this period, he traveled extensively in Europe, especially Italy, with Whittredge and Gifford.
In 1857, he returned to the United States and painted the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and in 1858, exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design in New York. That same year, representatives of the Boston Atheneum purchased his painting, The Portico of Octavia, Rome. In January 1859, he heard a lecture in New Bedford on the American West by Bayard Taylor, a famous traveler and lecturer, and this exposure stirred an interest that played a large part in his future career. A year later he joined a western military expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander to survey wagon routes in the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming. From sketches and artifacts such as buffalo hides and Indian items, he painted in the famous 10th St. studio western scenes including landscapes, Indians, and wildlife in the traditional style he had learned in Europe. His second trip West was with his friend, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose wife Rosalie Osborne, Bierstadt would subsequently marry in circumstances that 'titilated' New York society.
For Bierstadt, the Yosemite paintings were such a sensation that he became immediately famous. In 1871, he returned to California and stayed for three years, exhibiting in local galleries and with the San Francisco Art Association. In the 1860s and 70s, he earned the highest prices ever achieved by an American painter, and the US Congress allotted $20,000 for one of his paintings. In 1867, he had a grand tour of Europe and England including a special audience with Queen Victoria. His painting, Among the Sierra Mountains, California, was exhibited at the Royal Academy of London. He received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon III and the Order of the Stanislaus from the Czar of the Russias.