Moonlit Waterfront Landscape likely dates to the late 1850s and may have been inspired by one of the many shoreline views visited by Bierstadt and friend and fellow artist William Bradford during their outing. While the location remains a mystery, the composition relates to Bierstadt’s genre paintings created during and initially after his time abroad, wherein figures occupied in their tasks along a beachfront played a compelling role. As the moon peeks from the surrounding clouds, its beams reflect off the calm water and fall along wood fragments, nets, and various fishing accoutrements, and on the shoulders and heads of the figures gathered along the shore. This silhouette effect immediately engages the viewer and moves one’s eyes throughout the scene, taking in the different groups and their activity. The cool blues of the low light setting is punctuated by sporadic flashes of warmth, as a pair of figures share a smoke at center and a blazing bonfire in the distance illuminates the windows of a nearby home.
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Albert Bierstadt’s life today stands as a remarkable American success story. At the height of his career, Bierstadt’s paintings of the American West were famous for depicting the overwhelming grandeur and majesty of Nature combined with a devotion to minute detail – a combination that was very popular and successful. Bierstadt himself was singled out as one of America’s most ambitious and energetic artists.
1 Scholarship on Bierstadt is extensive. See Nancy K. Anderson and Linda S. Ferber, Albert Bierstadt, Art and Enterprise (NY: Hudson Hills Press, 1991) for an excellent chronology and bibliography.
Private collection, Medfield, Massachusetts, since the 1960s
By descent to a family trust representing the children of the original owners, who had passed away by 2012 and 2015
- (stamp verso of canvas, revealed when old lining removed and prior to being relined) Prepared / by / Ed.wd Dechaux / New York
- Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts (loan label) / Object ID: E.65.03 / Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) / American / Moonlight River Landscape / oil on canvas