Think of the grandeur of landscape painting, and odds are that most will close their eyes and imagine one of the dramatically lit Western scenery epics of the German-born-and-trained latter Hudson River School painter, Albert Bierstadt. Although during his day, the artist’s hugely scaled canvases, overwrought idealization of disappearing Romantic notions of Nature and extremely prolific talents saw him pooh-poohed by his peers, he has always been popular with the hoi polloi. And as much as Frederic Church or any of the other later landscape artists of his age and style, he provided for a future for what he picked up from the likes of Thomas Cole, who passed away while Bierstadt was in his early years. Out of this man’s monumental works of Yosemite, the Pacific Coast and other dramatic sites west of the Mississippi came a whole body of Western-themed and -originated art that continues to this day.
That is what makes the fact that Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, will be showing “Albert Bierstadt in New York and New England” as its 2013 exhibit so perfect. Curated by Annette Blaugrund, former director of the National Academy Museum, the new show – which opens with a lecture by the curator before an Open House opening this Sunday, April 28 – passes over the epic in Bierstadt’s work for something more intimate, in keeping with the Cole House space in which these exhibits are shown. The works on view, not usually shown together, depict botanical and geological details in the unspoiled wilderness, mountains and meadows of the Northeast terrains around which Bierstadt grew up, and which he inhabited as his working base throughout most of his life (for years his studio was based in Westchester County). The selection includes works from the White Mountains, Hudson Valley and other locations in New England and New York.
“Truly, all is remarkable, and a wellspring of amazement and wonder. Man is so fortunate to dwell in this American Garden of Eden,” Bierstadt is quoted as writing of his work in his later years – long after he had stopped heading west to mingle amongst Native Americans in only a loincloth, according to the stories with which he often regaled his admirers. “The magnificent beauty of the natural world is a manifestation of the mysterious natural laws that will be forever obscured from us.”
Concurrent with the opening reception and lecture, Cedar Grove is alight with forsythia and daffodils, beautifully manicured after the long winter, with its own inspiring vistas of the nearby Catskills to the west.
“Albert Bierstadt in New York & New England” opening, Sunday, April 28, 3-5 p.m., Annette Blaugrund lecture, 2 p.m., up through October, Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill; (518) 943-7465; www.thomascole.org.