Believing Bierstadt

Katherine Gregory
Mar 4, 2013 4:53AM

A few days ago, I visited the Princeton Art Museum for a class that I'm in, entitled America Then and Now. Our small group dawdled in front of a few American landscapes, discussing the ways in which 19th century American artists channeled their dreams, fears, and beliefs about our rugged terrain into painted representation. The most striking painting we stopped in front of was a towering Bierstadt from 1875, Mount Adams, Washington. Though the work was painted after the Civil War and in the midst of national post-traumatic stress, the painting is so awe-inspiring and simultaneously serene that one cannot help but believe Bierstadt's vision of rural American bliss.

Landscape paintings are often seen as escapes from the chaos of urban or civilized life, and Bierstadt paints the West as an Eden where Americans can restart their lives amid rolling pink plains, already leveled for farming and crisscrossed with ambling streams. The only problem for Bierstadt was the Native presence, which he presents in this work View of Chimney Rock at a much more magnified scale than Mount Adams. Still, we are enraptured by the calm flatness and sunset, believing Bierstadt's dream that this imagined vista is truly the antidote for American ails.

Katherine Gregory
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019