BIERSTADT AND OTHER 19TH-CENTURY AMERICAN PAINTERS IN CONTEXT
LANCE MAYER, & GAY MYERS
When standing in front of one of Bierstadt's paintings, conservators should perhaps celebrate, above all, Bierstadt's good craftsmanship, which makes it possible to still see, in most cases, the effects that the artist wanted the viewer to see. One cannot stand in front of one of Bierstadt's large paintings without being impressed by another element of his technique—his audacity in painting something so big, and with so much detail, that no one had quite done it in that way before. Audacity in the arts can be seen as another part of the context in which Bierstadt was painting. Moby Dick came out in 1851, and after Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, Matthew Arnold criticized Walt Whitman for thinking that he was a big man because he lived in a big country, which perhaps could have been said about Bierstadt as well. This kind of audacity seems not only typically American, but an element of the technique of some of the best and most distinctive things that have been done in the arts in America.