32¢ Alfred Bierstadt
Four Centuries of American Art
Issue Date: August 27, 1998
City: Santa Clara, CA
Printed By: Sennett Security Products
Printing Method: Photogravure
One of the greatest romantic landscape painters was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). His paintings did the most to help promote “Manifest Destiny,” the 19th-century doctrine that the United States had the duty to expand across North America. Born in Germany, Bierstadt and his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts when he was two years old. He returned to Germany at the age of 23 to study at the Düsseldorf Academy.
Bierstadt made his first trip to the American West in 1859 with Colonel Frederick Lander. The goal of the expedition was to plot a wagon route from Wyoming to the Pacific. Bierstadt traveled as far as the Rocky Mountains, making on-the-spot sketches and taking photographs of Native Americans, emigrants, animals, and landscapes. He moved to New York City in 1859, and began transforming his drawings and pictures into huge landscapes, some 6 by 10 feet in size. These first western paintings were an instant success, and the artist made a second trip to the west in 1863.
The peak of Bierstadt’s career coincided with the boom in western business. One of his paintings made during this time period, Domes of the Yosemite, was purchased by a western businessman for $15,000, equal to $1.5 million in modern dollars.