Last of the Buffalo

By Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902), Photogravure, 1891

German-born artist Albert Bierstadt was the foremost painter of Westward Expansion in the United States in the mid- to late-19th century. He was internationally known for Civil War scenes and for his lavish landscapes of Alaska, Yosemite, and the West.

Raised in Massachusetts, Bierstadt studied art at the Royal Academy in Germany, where he perfected romanticism, a popular style of his time, which implemented “luminism,” or a glowing light effect. His interest in the American West arose from a travel documentary he attended while in Europe. Bierstadt later joined a survey expedition into the American West. He took photographs and made sketches of the diverse and dramatic landscapes, which became the inspiration for the rugged and romanticized paintings he created back in his New York studio.

The Last of the Buffalo was Bierstadt’s last great western landscape. It brought to light the imminent extinction of the buffalo, stimulating a governmental plan for protection of this animal. The U.S. Postal Service featured the work as a commemorative stamp issued in 1998. This photogravure (a work made by photographically transferring an image to a metal plate, etching the image on the plate, and then printing from it), copyrighted by the artist in 1891, originated with an 1888 oil painting. The drive to preserve dwindling public lands in the American West in the 1960s reignited interest in Bierstadt’s works.