Albert Bierstadt’s paintings may have contributed to the profound changes occurring in the American West in the late 1800s.
Across Bierstadt’s thirty-year career, his depictions of an idealized western landscape helped inspire new waves of pioneers to follow Manifest Destiny, the concept that westward expansion by Euro-Americans was divinely sanctioned and inevitable.
But Bierstadt’s paintings also served as cautionary tales against the destruction that resulted from the onslaught of dubious “progress” in the American West.
Bierstadt recognized his buyers’ interests. Some people wanted to see hearty pioneers moving west. Others wanted to see untouched nature. Bierstadt sold his paintings to patrons with opposing views on the West. His own feelings about the region were complex and seemingly contradictory.