View of Nassau, Bahamas, c. 1880s
Oil on canvas
18⅛ x 32¼ inches
Signed lower right
Born in Solingen (near Düsseldorf), Germany, in 1830, Albert Bierstadt traveled with his family aboard the ship Hope at the young age of two, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. While little is known of his artistic inclination as a child, by the age of twenty, Bierstadt posted an advertisement offering instructions in “monochromatic painting,” charging $3 for 24 hours of lessons (Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1988, p. 16). By the early 1850s, he had a studio in New Bedford and before he left for training abroad in 1853 he exhibited works in at least three separate shows, one in his hometown and two in Boston. He found an early and supportive patron in the Hathaways, a family in the shipping business in New Bedford.
In 1853, Bierstadt returned to Düsseldorf where he studied at the Royal Academy with landscape painters Andreas Aschenbach and Karl Friedman Lessing. His peers included Emmanuel Leutze, Sanford Gifford and Worthington Whittredge, and they all learned attention to detail, respect for composition and skilled drawing. During this period, Bierstadt traveled extensively in Europe, especially Italy, often along with Whittredge and Gifford.
While he maintained a studio in New York City for much of his career, Bierstadt traveled throughout his life, in the United States and abroad. He painted subjects ranging from Civil War scenes in Washington and at Fort Sumter, to views of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, to his famous large portraits of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas. As one of the painters of the Hudson River School, Bierstadt is best known for his paintings depicting scenes far from the Hudson River, in the American Far West. He took part in Westward Expansion expeditions (requiring travel permissions from the Secretary of War to stay in U.S. army forts) and is credited with inspiring Americans to travel to this relatively unknown part of the country through his beautiful, if romanticized, views of the vast and untouched landscapes. In particular, his Yosemite paintings of the mid 1860s received great attention and he became immediately famous.
In the 1860s and 1870s, Bierstadt received the highest prices ever achieved by an American painter and the U.S. Congress paid $20,000 for one of his paintings. Within a decade, he fell out of favor due to the rise of Impressionism, but he remained productive and his body of work continues to be appreciated today.
As previously mentioned, Bierstadt was an avid traveler. He went to Nassau in the Bahamas for the first time in 1878 to visit his wife, Rosalie, who was there on doctor’s orders to alleviate her tuberculosis. Off and on in the late 1870s into the 1880s, Bierstadt would spend time in Nassau visiting his wife and painting.
As described by Gordon Hendricks in the book Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, Bierstadt was a “remarkable observer of air, light and the feeling of a place…” (ibid., p. 10). His paintings convey a “marvelous freshness,” which is an accurate way to describe the present work, a pristine elevated panorama of the lush greenery and therapeutic waters of Nassau. A more realistic, less romanticized depiction of a place than the scenes of Bierstadt’s grand Western pictures, the shimmering waters and sailboats out for a leisurely sail still invite the viewer in to experience a serene and peaceful setting.
Bierstadt is known to have painted other, primarily topographical views in this vicinity, such as Nassau Harbor and Bahamas (Private Collection). By size and description it is possible that View of Nassau, Bahamas was shown at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 in London.