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Art + History: Albert Bierstadt’s American West

Among the Sierra Nevada, California

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, January 31, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0201
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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"Among the Sierra Nevada, California", (detail) by Albert Bierstadt, 1868 (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Great art is timeless, and speaks to us across time, culture, and space. Yet great works come from real people living real lives—whether their work was made 5 minutes or 500 years ago. In this series, popular Smithsonian Associates speaker Paul Glenshaw looks at great works of art in their historical context. He delves into the time of the artist and explores the present they inhabited and what shaped their vision and creations.

Albert Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, California, painted in 1868, is many things all at once. It is Bierstadt’s personal expression of his joyful first sight of the Sierra Nevada and a scene he thoroughly invented. It’s a majestic depiction of the natural beauty of the American West and part of a brazen marketing scheme deployed by the showman/artist for his spreading wealth and fame. It—and Bierstadt’s many other such works—were immensely popular lures to immigrants and settlers to the promise of the American West; but it also reflects the complex legacy of the effects of Manifest Destiny.

Glenshaw follows Bierstadt’s journey from his immigrant childhood in Massachusetts to his artistic training in Dusseldorf, to the creation of the painting in Rome, to his extravagant exhibitions—and then to his rapidly declining popularity. It is a thoroughly American story.

Glenshaw is an artist, educator, author, and filmmaker with more than 30 years’ experience working across disciplines in the arts, history, and sciences. He teaches drawing for Smithsonian Associates and studied painting at Washington University in St. Louis.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.