Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902

Bierstadt was first a member of the Hudson River School of painters whose painting of the Hudson River Valley was called luminism for its attention to detail with the use of glowing light. Bierstadt soon, however, became infatuated by the American West and along with contempt Thomas Moran (1837-1926) created art sometimes referred to as the Rocky Mountain School. Bierstadt also fits neatly into the literary and artistic movement called naturalism for the manner in which he depicts human beings as tiny objects against an overpowering and dominant landscape. Biearstadt would surely have roared with laughter and guffaw at the suggestion human beings can change the climate.  Such pretense to unnatural abilities would have seemed a silly illusion to him.

Bierstadt died in 1902, just 5 years after the 1897 publication of Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat,” often haled as the epitome of literary naturalism and the philosophy it embodied. There is no evidence he ever read it. I believe if he had he would have recognized its message as pretty much the same as his own. With an important exception, however. Bierstadt clearly didn’t believe that mother nature was as unforgiving as did Crane, or Jack London’s story, “To Build a Fire,” but he certainly would have agreed that she is large and that man, like other animals, is small under her power.

Click to enlarge this beautiful painting.

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California (1868), Smithsonian American Art Museum

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California (1868), Smithsonian American Art Museum

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