Born in Germany, near Dusseldorf, Albert Bierstadt was brought as a child to the bustling whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Early artistic prowess led to formal training in Germany–back in Dusseldorf, in fact. Immersion in the aesthetics of Dusseldorf’s High German Romanticism and its counterpart in American Transcendentalism–think Goethe, Beethoven, Wagner, Cooper, Melville–prepared him to transform the American West and wilderness into art.
Success came quickly to Bierstadt after he set up his studio in New York. From the surreal–yet very real–majesty of the American Rockies, Bierstadt created panoramic landscapes combining elements of the beautiful and the sublime that captured the popular imagination.
Inspired to travel to the West after hearing a lecture by Bayard Taylor, a famed writer and traveler of the day, Bierstadt manages to secure a place in the 1859 Lander Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The splash Bierstadt’s paintings make on his return to New York acts as respite from the terrible rupture of the Civil War and he is soon on his way West again, this time with Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a rising literary star, who sends back dispatches to popular periodicals. Bierstadt and Ludlow become bitter foes. Ludlow sinks into opium addiction. His career falters. His marriage ends. Bierstadt falls in love with and marries Ludlow’s ex-wife, Rosalie. Nevertheless, in 1870, Ludlow manages to complete an important book chronicling their adventures–The Heart of A Continent.