By Matthew Baigell
Watson-Guptill Publications, New York
First edition, first printing, hardback with slip cover,1981, 84 pages, 32 color plates
Albert Bierstadt, grandiose landscape painter, is best remembered for accomplishing for the West what the somewhat earlier Hudson River painters had accomplished for the Catskills. Employing huge canvases befitting his subjects, Bierstadt was the first artist to capture the monumentality of the American wilderness, thereby satisfying the contemporary public’s desire for depictions of the mostly unknown uninhabited West.
Although landscape painting brought him the fame and fortune he yearned for, a large part of Bierstadt’s work (as the 32 full-color plates in this monograph reveal) included historical and genre-like paintings of frontier life. Author Matthew Baigell suggests that there existed a separate persona within Bierstadt to accompany each painting style.
Bierstadt’s paintings are undeniably beautiful and represent a distinct part of America’s heritage. Revealing historical import that extends beyond the paintings themselves, Matthew Baigell describes the layers of meaning that are invested in Bierstadt’s work and why he will remain of interest to scholars and aficionados of American painting and American history for years to come.
Those interested in American history will find this book and its unique information invaluable in understanding Bierstadt, his work, and American culture as reflected in his paintings.