Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite (1871-73), by Albert Bierstadt
German-born Albert Bierstadt gave definitive expression to America’s westward expansion in the 1860s and 1870s. His vast panoramas of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains introduced Americans to a majestic wilderness, awesome and exhilarating, and well worth possessing. The artist found his greatest subject in California’s Yosemite Valley, which he first visited in the summer of 1863. So spectacular was the remote and secluded valley that Bierstadt referred to it as the Garden of Eden. His many paintings of Yosemite are indeed biblical in their grandeur. Widely exhibited, they helped awaken the nation to the need to preserve such natural wonders. Bierstadt’s vision of the American West inspired later generations of artists—most notably the photographer Ansel Adams.