Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bierstadt's Expansive Vision the National Gallery Celebrates the Painter's Dramatic and Inviting Landscapes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bierstadt's Expansive Vision the National Gallery Celebrates the Painter's Dramatic and Inviting Landscapes

Article excerpt

HE was the poet laureate of the Rocky Mountains: Albert Bierstadt, who immortalized the American West on canvas.

Born in Germany, the son of a German barrel maker who came to New Bedford, Mass., with his family, Bierstadt taught himself to draw. He gave lessons, mastered painting well enough to earn the money for passage back to Germany to study in the art mecca of Dusseldorf. By the time he reached Lake Lucerne and painted its Alps-shadowed splendors, he was ready to take on America's soaring mountains.

As you stroll through the National Gallery's exhibition "Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise" there is one room especially that will stop you in your tracks. It is a room vast enough to hang several of Bierstadt's more stupendous paintings.

But the one that halts you like a lion's roar is "Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie," done in 1866.

It looms over the room, a painting so dramatic and compelling that you want to walk right into it, past the native Americans on horseback who look so tiny in the green foreground of the mountains, up past the pines and rocks, to the very edge of the lake on which light floats. Gold sunlight pours down Mount Rosalie's rocks and gorges at the right and gilds its peaks at the left. It is the brooding blue storm that fills the upper part of the painting with ominous navy and purple clouds that awe the viewer. It is difficult to look away from this breathtaking painting.

The Bierstadt exhibition, which contains over 70 of the artist's celebrated works, is the most extensive show ever done on the painter who scaled the heights of fame but then fell out of style.

It includes his important early painting, "Lake Lucerne," that led to his Western works. That painting, lost for over 100 years, was rediscovered and donated this year by Richard M. Scaife and Margaret Battle as a 50th-anniversary gift to the gallery.

"This gallery existed for 50 years without a Bierstadt," sighs its director J. Carter Brown, "and that was of course a thorn in the flesh." The gift "added to the show the missing lynchpin between Bierstadt's European skill and the sense of grandeur he was soon to apply to our own outdoors. …

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