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Perhaps the most famous painter of the American western landscape in the late 19th-century, Albert Bierstadt created dramatic images in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas that lured many people to visit those sites. His first visit to the Yosemite Valley was in 1863. Inspired by the vistas that Yosemite offered, Bierstadt wrote to a friend, “We are now here in the Garden of Eden I call it. The most magnificent place I was ever in, and I employ every moment painting from nature.”

Upon his return from California in January 1864, Bierstadt filled his Tenth Street studio in New York City with portfolios of sketches, photographs, and other items he accumulated during his journey—material he would continue to use as inspiration for his paintings for years to come. Captivated by his idealized images of the faraway frontier, collectors eagerly sought Bierstadt’s works and were willing to pay record prices to acquire them. The widespread interest in Bierstadt’s western landscapes arose from patriotic factors as well. Bierstadt completed many of these works near the end of the Civil War, a bloody and turbulent period that threatened to tear apart the country. His romanticized visualizations of the vast and breathtaking American West appeased the distressed nation. They inspired promises of hope and expansion. Likely due in part to the widespread popularity of paintings of the region, when Bierstadt returned to Yosemite Valley in 1872 he was met with a landscape frequented by tourists. His eastern audiences had made their own journeys westward to experience for themselves this new Garden of Eden.

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