By Lindsey Christina
During the nineteenth century, manifest destiny was an idea that was believed and further explored by Americans. Although many Americans may have challenged it, many believed that it was our right to explore and expand in the American west. Specifically, many believed this was a religious privilege as Christian Americans and was rightfully ours. Although manifest destiny was a controversial topic at the time, it did lead to the exploration and expansion in the West that would prove to be popular and, in some cases, profitable. One interest that Americans took in the West and the reason for its exploration was a developing interest in nature as a natural resource. There was a question, however, whether this expansion and exploration would exploit and perhaps ruin the beauty that the West had.
At approximately the same time, the industrial revolution was being explored and underway. The industrial revolution began the development of machines that would help Americans in everyday life.
These accomplishments were socially and economically profitable, specifically the development of machine engines, and factory organizations. During the same time-frame was the development of the transcontinental railway that would link the East and the West. The development of this link was largely promoted by the government and documented largely by artists at the time. Artists were sent to the West to document what the survey crews were doing at the time. Many of these explorations by artists were sponsored by the government. Specifically, Albert Bierstadt was trusted by the government to document the West for the promotion of destinations, railroads, expansion, development, and vacation. Many of the works created by Bierstadt, and others, were used in brochures, guidebooks, and displayed in hotels. This was believed to help promote the government’s plans. These artworks could be categorized as beautiful, sublime, or picturesque. This period marks a huge time for transition for America.
We may forget the great times in history that evolution was important, enjoyable, exciting, and required. However, one thing that I believe we all can relate to is the somewhat delicate, and often harsh, change of the season. As we have been thrust into autumn, the leaves fall from the deciduous trees, the temperatures cool, and an early darkness in the evenings begins. Fortunately, during the 1800’s, Bierstadt was able to capture some of the most amazing fall landscapes across the country – from the Catskills of New York to the Sierra Nevada.
Many of Bierstadt’s fall landscapes hold an American landscape painting style of the nineteenth century, characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes became to be known as Luminism. Luminist landscapes highlight peacefulness, and often depict tranquil, reflective water and an indulgent, hazy sky. The word luminism was introduced by mid-20th-century art historians to define a 19th-century American painting style that advanced as a branch of the Hudson River school. The artists who painted in this manner did not discuss their own work as "luminism", nor did they communicate any mutual painting viewpoint outside of the directorial philosophies of the Hudson River school where the great Bierstadt was affiliated. Luminism shares an emphasis on the effects of light with impressionism. However, the two styles are markedly different. Luminism is categorized by attention to detail and the hiding of brushstrokes, while impressionism is categorized by absence of detail and heavy brushstrokes. Luminism paved the way for impressionism, and the artistes who painted in a luminist manner were in no way predisposed by impressionism.
These inspiring landscapes scenes, with their use of vivid color and light, along with their immense scale, would be a priceless documentation of history and a stunning observation of the changing of the seasons.
To see one of Albert Bierstadt’s most amazing and popular works up close and in person, please visit the American Art Gallery at the Birmingham Museum of Art.