Albert Bierstadt, Great Art, True Love!
by Tam O'Neill
For Valentine's Day we offer a romantic story that springs from a masterwork of American painting by Albert Bierstadt and includes ties to some of the best loved mountain landmarks of Colorado with a (slightly) scandalous tale of true love. What's not to love?
Albert Bierstadt is known for his 19th century American paintings which are masterful depictions of sublime mountain landscapes. His most famous works are done in heroic scale, nearly overwhelming the viewer with his luminous skys and romantic painting style. Trained in Germany and associated with the Hudson River painters, he first ventured west with Frederick Lander's expedition to Wyoming in 1859 where he established himself as a painter of western American landscape with his work, "The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak." A wonderful large scale detailed steel engraving was also published after this painting.
"Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak", Albert Bierstadt, oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1863, Bierstadt planned an extended western tour with his good friend, writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. Bierstadt hoped to photograph and sketch and bring back compositions to finish in his studio in the 10th Street Studio Building in New York City while Ludlow hoped to gather ideas for the book he would later publish under the title, "Heart of the Continent". Ludlow was a rakish, bohemian spirit known for his work "The Hasheesh Eater" which detailed his personal experience using cannabis. Ludlow was quite financially successful and he married a beautiful young society woman, Rosalie Osborne.
Fitz Hugh Ludlow
In April of 1863 Bierstadt and Ludlow embarked on their western adventure which brought them through the Rockies, including Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah and ended in Northern California at Yosemite. On the swing through Denver, Bierstadt and Ludlow were introduced to William Byers, then editor of the Rocky Mountain News. Byers understood that if Bierstadt could find an inspirational subject in the Colorado landscape, that it would be a terrific public relations coup for the state. Byers personally hired a wagon to haul Bierstadt and Ludlow up to Idaho Springs, and then followed Chicago Creek up to an alpine basin. Bierstadt was struck by the scene of a turbulent sky against a massive towering peak. He painted dark grey storm clouds parting to show streams of light illuminating the peak. Bierstadt harbored secret affection for Ludlow's young wife Rosalie. The resulting painting embodies his emotional torment. Bierstadt named the painting; "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie" The peak, unnamed at the time was then called Mount Rosalie after the married woman Bierstadt loved. Rosalie and Ludlow divorced in 1866, and Rosalie soon after married Bierstadt.
"A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie", Albert Bierstadt, oil on Canvas. Brooklyn Museum.
In 1895 the Colorado legislature decided that the majestic peak should not be named for a scandalous divorced woman, and so changed the name to Mount Evans, honoring John Evans the second Territorial Governor of the state. Rosalie was then given a somewhat less spectacular peak a bit to the south, and a 14,000' peak flanking Mt. Evans was named for Bierstadt.
Rosalie and Albert were happily married for twenty seven years until Rosalie died of tuberculosis in 1893. The painting is a prized American masterwork in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in New York. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/1558/
There is a chromolithic print version of "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie" that is quite spectacular as well.
As a side note this area remains one of the most popular hiking destinations in Colorado, reachable by trailheads at Echo Lake, Guanella Pass, and West Chicago Creek, you can also just take the Mount Evans Scenic Byway from CO 103 from Idaho Springs on 1-70- to Echo Lake, then CO-5 to the turnaround just below the summit. The latter has long been the highest paved road in North America and is only open in the summer. http://www.14ers.com/routemain.php?route=bier1&peak=Mt.%20Bierstadt
If you are interested in knowing more about the works in print by Albert Bierstadt please contact the gallery, firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT Tam O'Neill
Tam O'Neill lives in Denver, Colorado and is an academically trained printmaker who collects, buys, sells and writes about prints.