As one of America’s most prominent nineteenth-century painters, Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) is justly renowned for his majestic paintings of the western landscape. Yet Bierstadt was also a painter of history, and his figural works, replete with images of Plains Indians and the American bison, are an important part of his legacy as well. This splendid full-color volume highlights his achievements in chronicling a rapidly changing American West.
Born in Germany, Bierstadt rose to prominence as an American artist in the late 1850s and enjoyed nearly two decades of critical success. His paintings propelled him to the forefront of the American art scene, but they also met with reproach from his peers and critics in the press who viewed his painting style as outmoded. Bierstadt’s star has both risen and fallen as modern art historians have reconsidered his complex oeuvre.
This volume takes a major step in reappraising Bierstadt’s contributions by reexamining the artist through a new lens. It shows how Bierstadt conveyed moral messages through his paintings, often to preserve the dignity of Native peoples and call attention to the tragic slaughter of the American bison. More broadly, the book reconsiders the artist’s engagement with contemporary political and social debates surrounding wildlife conservation in America, the creation and perpetuation of national parks, and the prospects for the West’s indigenous peoples. Bierstadt’s final history paintings, including his dual masterworks titled The Last of the Buffalo—a special focus of this volume—stand out as elegiac odes to an earlier era, giving voice to concerns about the intertwined fates of Native peoples and endangered wildlife, especially bison.
Along with its rich sampling of Bierstadt’s diverse artwork, Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West features informative essays by noted curators, scholars of art history, and historians of the American West.