Albert Bierstadt's Mt. Whitney
Albert Bierstadt, Mount Whitney, c. 1877, oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 116-5/8 inches. Rockwell Foundation purchase. 78.14
In 1859, Bierstadt went west in search of new material. He soon became foremost among "the Rocky Mountain School" of artists. Moving to California to be near his favorite scenery, he helped to establish the "California School" of landscape painters. Bierstadt portrayed the West as a place of almost supernatural wonder. By the mid-1870's, he was the most popular western landscape painter in America.
Bierstadt was born in Germany but immigrated with his family to Massachusetts when he was just two years old. He later returned to Europe to study and while there he toured the Alps, acquiring a passion for "grand" landscapes. In 1859 he went west and soon was foremost among "The Rocky Mountain School" of artists. He later moved to California to be near his favorite scenery. Interested in its Romantic possibilities, he painted the West as a place of almost supernatural wonder by rearranging and exaggerating outstanding features. Most viewers appreciated his artistic imagination, but Mark Twain, among other critics, thought that his Yosemite paintings portrayed a "glorified atmosphere."
A prevalent sentiment at the time Bierstadt made this painting is captured in this charge, published thirty years earlier: What were once the wild and picturesque haunts of the Red Man, and where the wild deer roamed in freedom, are becoming the abodes of commerce and the seats of manufactures. . . . It behooves our artists to rescue from its grasp the little that is left, before it is for ever too late. --The Literary World, 8 May 1847
It was early explorer artists like Bierstadt whose spectacular large works persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt and the U. S. Congress to establish our western national parks and further influenced exploration and westward expansion of the United States.
Mount Whitney is located in the Sierra Nevada Range in Eastern California. At 14,495 feet, it is the highest mountain in the United States outside of Alaska. The actual site of the painting is not known, because the artist has idealized the natural features in the painting.
The idea of a western, or New World "Eden", was an untouched wilderness where indigenous inhabitants, if there were any, lived in a state of natural grace. Manifest Destiny embodied this idea, expressing the white settlers belief in a divinely inspired mission to expand and inhabit the entirety of the unknown frontier of what is now the U.S. Manifest Destiny was political and social propaganda. It was never official policy, though politicians inevitably used it for popular appeal.