Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nature, Enhanced

The Seattle Art Museum has an exhibit of 19th century paintings of western scenes on view until 11 September. There are Names from the Hudson River School represented, but the featured guy is Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902).

Bierstadt was born in Solingen in what is now Germany and moved to Massachusetts as a child. He returned for art training in Düsseldorf, not far from his native Solingen, but made his career in the United States painting nature scenes. A web site striving to catalog all his paintings is here.

What I found most interesting about the exhibit was that most of the paintings were dramatic exaggerations of what one actually sees when at the various sites depicted. I know those sites because I've spent most of my life on the West Coast and have traveled through many parts of the Mountain West as well as coastal areas.

But the audience for paintings by Bierstadt and the others lived far to the east of the painting sites, had never traveled out west, and therefore was ignorant of its reality. This was more true around 1860 when Bierstadt made his first sojourn; later in the century the west became better documented by photography.

Below is an example of the kind of exaggeration I noticed.

Mount Rainier - Albert Bierstadt - 1890
This painting sold at a recent Coeur d'Alene Art Auction for $2,143,000.

Mount Rainier as seen from Tacoma harbor
Bierstadt probably made his sketches approximately from this angle to the mountain, but a few miles closer to it on a ridge east of Tacoma overlooking the Puyallup River (which empties into Commencement Bay, where this photo was taken).

1 comment:

dearieme said...

In my ignorance I'd never heard of Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida - who is discussed here