Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) was an artist associated with the Hudson Valley School. He was a talented student of landscape painting who studied light and nature with a clear albeit romantic eye. He can be melodramatic (I myself have been accused of same), but there is much to admire about and learn from him.
Bierstadt, like Constable, Leonardo da Vinci and others, studied the sky and clouds. His purest sky paintings involve views over a calm sea, as in his Sea and Sky, above.
… or this Beach Scene.
Add a ship to such an atmospheric study, and you have scale and a story that will sell… yes, he had to make a living… duh. I find this painting, Wreck of the Ancon, moving on many levels.
Landscape, combines a sky study with mysterious mountains and a foreground frame to create the quintessential Bierstadt painting.
Bierstadt helpfully reminds me that the sky is simply a rendering of light, which can take almost any color. Sunrise over Forest and Grove spreads the warm light over the landscape creating a unified effect that is surprisingly enjoyable.
Of course, when I think of Bierstadt I think of drama, and Deer at Sunset serves it up in great glowing gobs. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for an architectural illustration (who would even notice the building?), but it is an exciting performance.
Bierstadt is also known for mountains, the natural backdrop for drama and the abode of the gods. Mountain Lake is about as serene as he gets, and is a nice example of the effect of distance on color: the dark colors losing saturation and contrast, while the light colors (the snow) retain a cool strength.
Canadian Rockies Asulkan Glacier is a dynamic composition resembling a stage set. The layers of foreground, middle ground and background establish order, allowing the various textures to work together.
Mountainous Landscape, for me, is a reminder that a spotlit foreground can be the focus of a grandiose scene. Note that the simple flag-like composition of horizontal stripes establishes foundation for the differently scaled landscapes.
One of the most difficult problems for an architectural renderer to solve is how to highlight an urban building that is surrounded by other buildings. The Snow Mountain solves a similar problem by using haze to merge the surrounding mountains, and by lighting the snow-covered peak.
As is obvious from the preceding examples, Bierstadt’s work always explores the play of light on the landscape. His favorite subject is the mountains, but he applies the same genius to woodlands, as in Forest Stream, above…
… or, unusually, to a building. The title of the painting above, Sunlight and Shadow, suggests that he is less interested in the architecture than in the play of light.
And when you get down to it, that is what makes his work valuable to me. I think I’ll raise a beer to Bierstadt tonight!