Sunday, October 11, 2020

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

In 1859, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) organized a painting expedition in the high country of the Rocky Mountains. He sought out the help of William Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, a "mountain tramp" who knew his way around. 

Byers recalled how the artist "said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. His enthusiasm was badly dampened, but the moment he caught the view, fatigue and hunger were forgotten. He said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. Taking in the view for a moment, he slid off his mule, glanced quickly to see where the jack was that carried his paint outfit, walked sideways to it and began fumbling at the lash-ropes, all the time keeping his eyes on the scene up the valley."

Byers waited patiently for Bierstadt to finish the color sketch, which the artist thought had taken fifteen minutes. Byers said: "You were at work forty-five minutes by the watch!"

The artist produced one sketch after another, each time exceeding his estimate of how long it would take.

“Wait twenty minutes while I sketch this storm.” They waited, but twenty minutes flew by, and he was still at work. Thirty, forty, and fifty minutes, and then an hour was gone, and the artist, absorbed in his work, was earnestly engaged in transferring the natural sublimity before him to paper. At the end of an hour and a half the artist completed his sketch."

According to Eleanor Harvey in her book The Painted Sketch

"'It was claimed that the artist’s recording “every detail of so wide a view in time—sketches, each limited to twenty minutes, and each noting the time of day, and consequent relative position of the sun, is one of the secrets of M. Bierstadt’s success.' He also developed a reputation early in his career as a prolific artist in the field, evidenced by the weight of his accumulated materials.”


Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West 

The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature, 1830-1880 by Eleanor Harvey



Christen said...

There is a small museum/gallery near me that has a collection of Western Art, The Chisolm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma. The one piece that stands out to me is a small sketch by Bierstadt. It is magical in the seemingly swift simplicity of its execution, perhaps it took longer than I thought. Thank you for this insight to his methods.

Maria said...

So wonderful these glimpses of great artists! What was the medium used for these sketches? Maria/Sweden

A.B. said...

I can really relate to this mode of working, as I'm usually travelling with non-painting people - If the situation is not suited to drop out for one or two hours, I try to limit my sketches to fifteen minutes. They fly by like the blink of an eye and I only can keep the time limit if I have an alarm set in my phone...
But the quality of such rapid sketches improves quite fast with practice.

Michaelangelo Reina said...

In either Winter or Summer, the glare of the sun off of snow, pavement, or sand can be a bit harsh, tends to be a bit of an issue when I am wearing sun glasses and I am trying to match colors.
How you come up against, and if so, have you developed any practices to deal with it?

Max Sims said...

I’ve always been inspired by Bierstadt as well you James Gurney. I must admit that your site is one of the most expensive ( and expansive) that I go to. I can’t resist your links to these. Wonderful books , paint supplies and DVDs. Thanks for inspiring me every day and draining my pocketbook ��!