Albert Bierstadt

Albert Bierstadt

Armand Cabrera

Albert Bierstadt was the greatest living American landscape painter for a brief period during the 1860’s and 1870’s. His paintings extracted prices ten times what other artists bargained for their work.
Born in 1830 in Prussia, Bierstadt’s family immigrated to the United States in 1832. Albert’s interest in art was rivaled only by his fascination with money. While still in his teens, Bierstadt contracted with artist, George Harvey, to create a traveling show of Harvey’s landscape paintings. Projected on a 15’ x 17’ theater screen, Bierstadt charged the patrons an admission of 25 cents with nightly showings.

In 1853, Bierstadt traveled to Düsseldorf for three years of art study. The trip was financed by his various business endeavors in the United States. While not formally enrolled in the academy, Bierstadt trained with some of the school’s American students, including Eastman Johnson and Worthington Whittredge.

Upon his return to the United States, Bierstadt organized his first trip to the Rockies in 1859. His skill at outdoor painting was unparalleled and he produced hundreds of studies in the field. Renting space in the now famous, “Tenth Street Studio”, Albert Bierstadt began work on his “Great Pictures”.

The “Great Pictures” were impressive theater events. Hundreds of people stood in line for the opportunity to view Bierstadt’s paintings. Admission fees were charged and the paintings toured many cities. Albert Bierstadt excelled in this world. All through the 1860’s and 1870’s, his ability to cultivate important patrons and his flair for self-promotion gave Bierstadt meteoric rise to the top of the art world.

His unprecedented rise begat the wrath of the art critics. This constant attack by the press and the rapidly changing tastes of the patrons and the American public contributed to the swift demise of Bierstadt’s art career. At his death in 1902, Albert Bierstadt was all but forgotten.

Albert Bierstadt’s significant contributions to American landscape art are unquestionable. His idealized and romantic views of an untamed continent are at the root of the American promise of opportunity.

Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West
Gordon Hendricks

Albert Bierstadt Art and Enterprise
Nancy Anderson
Linda Ferber

Thomas Moran

Thomas MoranBy
Armand Cabrera

Thomas Moran was born in 1837 in Bolton, England—the fifth of seven children. His father was a handloom weaver. The industrial revolution motivated the family to move to the United States to escape unemployment and poverty. The Moran family settled in Kensington, near Philadelphia. Thomas Moran’s older brother, Edward, was the first to pursue art and become a successful marine painter. Young Thomas never had any formal training but was influenced by his older brother and his brother’s studio mate, John Hamilton. Thomas began frequenting his brother’s studio by 1855 and accompanied him on sketching trips. In 1862, the brothers returned to England to study the works of J.W.M. Turner. Thomas made copies of the paintings he saw at the National Gallery, trying to replicate the color and luminosity of Turner.

When Thomas returned to America, he found work as both a fine artist and a commercial illustrator. In 1871, at the request of Scribner’s Magazine, he was to redraw an amateur’s sketches of a trip to the Yellowstone region in Wyoming. Based on the unusual terrain in the sketches, Thomas decided to visit Yellowstone for himself. He borrowed money so he could accompany a survey party that was returning to the area later that year. The trip so inspired the young artist that he dedicated his life to the depiction of the American West.

Thomas Moran never painted with oils while traveling; instead he preferred to make sketches in watercolor, gouache and pencil and later translate these into his great pictures. He was not interested in recording nature literally. For Thomas, the truth was in his impression of the place. He used all means at his disposal to heighten the effect he was after.

It is believed that Thomas Moran’s paintings helped to secure Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon as National Parks. His paintings, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Chasm of the Colorado and Mountain of the Holy Cross became icons of the American Landscape.

At the turn of the century, Thomas Moran was attacked for being outdated. However, Moran’s paintings never fell out of favor with the public. He enjoyed continued artistic success until his death at the age of ninety.

Thomas MoranNancy K. Anderson
Yale University Press

Splendors of the American West: Thomas Moran’s Art of the Grand Canyon and YellowstoneAnne Morand, Joni L. Kinsey, Mary Panzer
Birmingham Museum of Art

Thomas Moran The Field Sketches, 1856-1923Anne Morand
University of Oklahoma Press

In working I use my memory. This I have trained from youth, so that while sketching I impress indelibly upon my memory the features of the landscape and the combinations of coloring so that when back in the studio the watercolor will recall vividly all the striking peculiarities of the scenes visited. ~Thomas Moran

A Brief History of 19th & 20th Century Outdoor Painting


Armand Cabrera


Prior to the 19th Century, landscape painting was used as the basis for allegorical and narrative themes. The landscape was idealized. Jacob van Ruysdael and Claude Lorrain captured effects of perspective and atmosphere. However; their paintings were composed much like a set designer would create a backdrop for a theater production. For these artists, outdoor painting was confined to sketches or preliminary studies for reference.


Outdoor painting has a relatively short history when measured against the great span of art across the centuries. It was not until the early 1800’s that artists rejected the contrived landscapes of their predecessors and turned to nature for their inspiration. A small group of Englishmen, most notably John Constable and Joseph William Mallord Turner, first produced finished works directly from nature.


In 1824, John Constable’s paintings, “View on the Stour” (1819) and “The Hay Wain” (1821) were exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon, winning Gold Medals. These works had a profound influence on the course of landscape painting in the 19th century. In France, Jean Batiste Camille Corot also painted scenes foregoing romanticized views.





The Barbizon School1830 – 1870
Originating in France, their members included Theodore Rousseau, Constant Troyon and Claude Daubigny. Their paintings were consdidered crude and unfinshed by the standards of the day.


The Hudson River School 1830’s – 1900’s
In America, the expansion in the West beckoned artists to paint these new lands. Collectors were eager to see the wilds of America through their paintings. The first and most notable painters in the Hudson River School were Thomas Cole and Asher Brown Durand. Following in their footsteps were Frederick Edwin Church, Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt and William Keith.



I Macchiaioli 1850 – 1900

A group of painters in Tuscany. Influenced by the painters in France, they rejected the academic romanticism of the time and turned to modern life for inspiration–again working directly from nature. Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Fattori and Vincenzo Cabianca were some of the notables in this group.

The Impressionists 1860’s – 1903

The Barbizon School and I Macchiaioli helped to form the great movement of the Impressionists. Beginning in France, they held their first show in1874. The Impressionists rejected the closed system of the academies. They embraced modern life as a theme. Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro were prominent figures in the group. The Impressionists sought to capture the effects of atmosphere, basing their art on the science of color and light. Most of their work was painted outdoors in a few hours time. For larger works, they would return to the same location, at the same time of day, and complete the painting.


American Impressionism1870’s – 1920’s

The Americas were influenced by Impressionism slowly. The first American artists to embrace this new style were Mary Cassatt, John Joseph Enneking and Childe Hassam. American Impressionism was a blend of academic training and Impressionist thought. This technique was recognized by more spontaneous brushwork and a lighter palette than the Hudson River School’s style. A few of the painters at the turn of the Century defied categorization—John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase, to name a few.



1920’s – 2000

20th Century outdoor painters had a unique opportunity to choose whatever style they felt best reflected their belief about painting. Many fine painters worked through the middle of the century in a Representational/ Impressionist style. Carl Rungius, Sir Alfred Munnings, Edgar Payne, Frank Benson, Edward Redfield and John Fabian Carlson are noteworthy.


Today’s Contemporary painters have discovered outdoor painting again. Building on the past, their commitment to works of quality have created a new Golden Age of painting.

More on Construction in Painting

by Armand Cabrera

I want to talk more about construction for landscape painters. Figure painters know that construction is an important aspect of their training. With figure drawing and painting you learn the ideal and then adjust and apply the specific to your understanding. This type of training rarely takes place for landscape painters. Landscape painters tend to copy what they see for good or bad. While this approach can work over time, great landscape painters, like great figure painters, understand their subject on a deeper level. Their method is partly based on observation and partly on construction. It is as much from what they know about something as it is about what they see. This combination of construction and observation helps to strengthen the painting.

                                                                          Thomas Moran
 Everything has an anatomy to it; understanding this underlying structure helps you paint with a more authoritative approach. Observation alone can fool the viewer into believing they are seeing something they are not. How many times have we been fooled by some foreshortened object in the landscape thinking something looks a certain way when in reality our view of it is giving us false information? If you understand the anatomy of the thing you are looking at there is little chance for confusion since you can visualize what is going on even when its shape is distorted in your view.

William Wendt
A constructive approach can aid the design and the elegance of your depiction too. It can help with an interpretation based only in part on naturalism. Many great painters have used their understanding of the landscape and flora and fauna to create paintings truthful to nature but utterly unique to that artist. This approach requires a thorough knowledge of the subject, the ability to pick out what’s important and strip away what isn’t. For the artist, it creates a completely personal view of the world irrespective of the subject matter.

Maynard Dixon

Painting Moonlight

Armand Cabrera

Painting moonlight is not something people do much these days but I thought I would address the lighting effects from moonlight anyway. Moonlight is really strong reflected light and because of its weaker source, moonlight appears very cool to our eyes. Like ambient light, you lose the reflected light from other surfaces. The exception is in snow, where a strong enough phase of the moon with a clear sky will give you some reflected light, depending on the angle to the viewer.

The whole value scale is squeezed down to two thirds of the full normal value range. Edges lose their crispness compared to daylight situations and because of these lower values most hues have lower saturations. The cool light, warm shadows adage works well here too. Many painters start with a warm compliment wash of a deep red or yellow before painting the rest of the scene.

In a moonlit sky the light spreads out in prismatic order, this is especially apparent when clouds or fog is present and can add a dramatic effect if you are skilled enough to capture it.


One of the problems with painting at night is, it’s hard to find a good enough light source to paint by. I wear a head lamp that is used for camping and I have a barbecue light I can attach to my painting rig for my palette. It has a c-clamp style base and works well with all my various setups; French easel, pochades or A-frame easel. This way I can have light on my painting and palette at the same time, although I won’t be making any best dressed lists in this getup.

The biggest challenge of painting at night is finding a safe location that allows you to paint but won’t get the cops called on you. Most people think you’re pretty weird when standing around in one place with a headlamp on. If you get too far away from people, you run the risk of being harassed by the lower elements of society.

Too much blue in moonlight scenes seems to make them less effective than if an artist orchestrates his colors and shifts them to the cool end of the spectrum still retaining the reds and yellows and greens with less saturation and lower values. The form principle still applies in moonlight so shadows shift temperature from the lights. Moonlight is directional like sunlight, so the light, even though much weaker than the sun, is not top down and flat as the light on an overcast day.

Paintings in this article from top to bottom, Charles Rollo Peters, Knud Andreassen Baade, Frank Tenney Johnson, George Sotter, George Sotter, Frederick Remington