Few landscape paintings were produced in America prior to the 18th century, but by the early 1800’s, a group of artists now known as the Hudson River School had popularized the genre with large-scale paintings of the Hudson River Valley, the Catskill Mountains of New York State, and beyond.
Beginning in the 1850’s, Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), a European-trained landscape painter working in the Hudson River School style, journeyed across the continent with survey parties to explore the west coast. In his studio back east, he painted some of the first landscapes depicting geographical features of the west such as the Rocky Mountains and Yosemite Valley.
Bierstadt’s paintings were particularly admired by European audiences. At the height of his career, a painting entitled The Rocky Mountains sold to an English railroad financier for $25,000. Toward the close of the century, as travel to the West became easier and photographs of the region more available, his popularity waned as dramatic, large-scale landscapes were cast aside in favor of more intimate works.