Albert Bierstadt (American, born Germany, 1830–1902),
Valley of the Yosemite
, ca. 1864
oil on paper on canvas, 14 x 19 in.; 35.56 x 48.26 cm
Gift of Mrs. C.N. Dietz, 1934.14
If there is a single painter whose name is instantly associated with grand Western landscapes, it is Bierstadt. The artist made his first trip West in 1858, and traveled there again in subsequent decades; his last excursion was 1884. His dramatic mountain and marine views, often quite large, were enormously popular. Reflecting his training at the famed Düsseldorf academy, Bierstadt’s carefully composed romantic paintings are full of details that are faithful to nature but do not necessarily document a particular place. It is the title and not the specific landscape elements (the driftwood and stump in the foreground, the waterfall in the background) that locate this peaceful but impressive scene in the Valley of the Yosemite.
Valley of the Yosemite also demonstrates Bierstadt's interest in photography. He was particularly affected by the Yosemite pictures of Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, whos works he may have used as compositional aids for his paintings. Photography's detailed rendering of forms and deep penetration into space (in the case of stereoscopic photographs) conformed perfectly to Bierstadt's meticulous style and, when combined with the mammoth scale of many of his paintings, produced spectacularly sublime visions that entranced audiences.