In the Bierstadt painting, is the view still the same today or did Bierstadt take artistic liberties by adding anything?
Great question! No doubt the area has changed since Albert Bierstadt painted this. He made this painting during America's frenzied period of "Manifest Destiny" and he was part of the propagandistic movement to convince people to claim land out West. To paint this picture, Bierstadt would have relied on dozens of drawings and plein-air oil studies of the region. However, I do think that the beauty, the light, the grandeur were embellished to show Americans the possibilities of an adventurous move to the "unclaimed" West.
Can you tell me about his style of painting?
Hello! Thanks for using the ASK app this afternoon. That Albert Bierstadt landscape is almost as breathtaking as I feel like the view in person would be. Albert Bierstadt painted this upon his return to New York after a trip out West. He created dozens of drawings and plein-air oil studies (much smaller than this!) and the final work you see here took nearly a year to paint.
William Newton Byers, who traveled with Bierstadt on this expedition out West in 1863, wrote of Bierstadt: "Mr. Bierstadt was in raptures with the scenery, but restrained his inclination to try his pencils until within two or three miles of the upper limit of tree growth...Patience vanished, and in nervous haste, canvas, paints and brushes were unpacked and a couple of hours saw, under his skillful hands, some miles of mountain, hills, forests and valley"
Bierstadt was trained in Dusseldorf and artists trained in this style generally painted "wet-to-wet" meaning that layers of wet paint are applied to layers of wet paint or, the previous layers on the canvas are not set to dry before adding more paint. There are many ways to paint with oil, this being one, another is wet-to-dry, where the previous layers dry before adding more.
Thanks, that's great!
This painting makes me feel motivated yet small.
I think Bierstadt would have been happy to hear that! The size of the painting, and the panoramic effect of that view, are so bold! We can't help but feel awed, right?
At the same time, he (and his contemporaries) were thinking about westward settlement and "Manifest Destiny," the belief that Euro-Americans were divinely appointed to move across the content and make it their own. He wanted to create a sense of excitement and possibility about the frontier that lay to the west. He was definitely working for eastern audiences -- and this was their "introduction" to places they hadn't been yet.
Is it a warning against Manifest Destiny? The skies ahead do look rather intimidating!
Bierstadt worked closely with surveyors who were assessing the land for the U. S. Government and he shared their optimism about white ownership of all that territory. So it is not a warning, it is more of an advertisement of the expansive land waiting to be claimed.
Why does this view look like something out of Harry Potter?
Ha! Maybe because Harry Potter captured the hearts and souls of a generation and so did Albert Bierstadt! Bierstadt's "Mount Rosalie" is an example of a "Great Picture," a large-scale painting intended for public exhibition. The lighting is certainly quite magical!
The view in this painting is based partly on Mount Evans near Denver, Colorado, but the painting is really a composite of the Western landscapes that Bierstadt saw during his travels. After the picture was finished, he unofficially named the primary mountain in the landscape after his new wife, Rosalie. That mountain was officially named Mount Evans at the end of the 19th century.
So while, Hogwarts isn't in the work...Manifest Destiny and hope for Western Expansion certainly is present.
Did this artist paint only mountainscapes?
Not only mountain scenes per se, but Albert Bierstadt was known for his landscape paintings, especially of the American West.
An interesting fact is that "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains" is partially an invented view, created to encourage an Eastern audience's curiosity about the western frontier.
Nice! How many excursions did he go on to create these works?
As far as I know, he travelled West three times. The first trip was in the spring of 1859 to the Nebraska territory. Then again from May to December 1863 to California.
He spent 7 weeks at Yosemite and then headed to Oregon. He returned to California in 1871. However, by this time, with the construction of the transcontinental railroad, Yosemite was filled with tourists. So he journeyed northwards to less accessible areas.
Why did he feel the need to exaggerate the landscapes in his pieces?
That's a good question. Part of the explanation is that these paintings were a form of entertainment.
It was like going to the movies---you would be charged admission to see works such as this. The larger and more dramatic, the better!
Another point is that the painter made many sketches in nature but created imaginary composite views in the studio, where he was able to exaggerate and manipulate the image.
Ah, I see. I feel like that could be disappointing for people to realize! Did the general public believe that his representations of the landscape were accurate? I do like the drama of his pieces.
I don't believe people knew that these were not always veristic views. However, nature itself can be just as majestic, so hopefully they would not have been too disappointed!
It was a point of pride amongst Americans that the country was so beautiful. Paintings like this one were also reproduced as prints and as designs on ceramics like platters and dishes.
In this way, people could bring the landscape into their homes and own a little piece of it.
Very, very cool.
The light here is amazing. It reminds me a lot of pictures and paintings I've seen of Yosemite. Were there artists that did both? Scenes in the rookies like this and Yosemite too, in the 1800s?
There were several artists who traveled out to the western United States around this time. Bierstadt traveled to both Yosemite and Colorado on the same trip in 1863, when he was planning this painting.
The awe and power of western vistas were very popular at the time. This painting was shown to audiences on the east coast, for example, who never would have seen these sights on their own.
Do you know what lake is depicted?
The lake is based on the Upper and Lower Chicago Lakes near Denver, Colorado. This scene was invented based on multiple locations, so it's not entirely truthful. It's more of a composite, made with artistic license.
What about the dead deer in the foreground? Was it hunted, or is it dead of natural causes?
I believe the deer is to be understood as a victim of the hunting party around the fire.
Thank you so much!
Has anyone determined the location that "Storm in the Rockies" depicts?
Yes! It is an invented view that combines several different real topographic features that Bierstadt sketched during his 1863 travels in the American west.
The two snowy peaks just below the highest cloud belongs to Mt. Evans (then called Mt. Rosalie).
The rock formations look familiar to me. The description says Mt. Rosalie. I went to camp near there as a kid and most likely saw this scene firsthand.
Wow, that must have been so beautiful to see in person! Dramatic views like this satisfied eastern American audiences' curiosity about the new western frontier. Works like this supported Manifest Destiny---the belief that American settlers of European descent were fated to be masters of North America.
Is this on canvas?
Yes! This painting was even recently conserved on view to the public and I got to see the back of the canvas with my own eyes!
Bierstadt traveled to the Rocky Mountains and made numerous sketches on his journey. Back at his studio he made a few large scale paintings like this one which took him about a year to complete!
Is the painting A Storm in the Rocky Mountains displayed anywhere else as well?
A Storm in the Rocky Mountains makes its permanent home here at the museum. However, perhaps you've seen Bierstadt's Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak at the Met Museum.
A Storm in the Rocky Mountains was also published extensively as a chromolithograph.