As a young man Bierstadt took several journeys of the Westward Expansion in order to render such scenes, part of the Hudson River School in New York. Their detailed, romantic approach was sometimes called luminism, and often featured rugged mountains bathed in vivid, ethereal light. When travelling westward, Bierstadt is reported to have taken endless photographs of the terrain, sketching the mountains and rock formations.
These became the basis for the giant canvasses painted in his New York studio, which in turn captured the public's imagination after his work The Portico of Octavia Rome was bought in 1857 by the Boston Athenaeum. Soon after, having exhibited extensively, Bierstadt became the darling of the art world, his paintings selling for record amounts. Despite his rapid ascendancy, Bierstadt was criticized by many of his peers for what they felt was an overabundance of light in his work. Considered excessively sentimental in his approach, he was accused of glorifying his subjects, regardless of how brilliantly crafted.
He remained, however, popular among the general public, who enjoyed the chance to view parts of the country most did not have the means to visit. In 18882 many of his works were destroyed by a fire at his New York studio, and by the time he died in 1902 the taste for his particular style of painting had waned. It wasn't until the 1960s that Bierstadt's work was, once again, favourably reviewed. A selection of his small oils were exhibited, prompting many in the art world to reassess previous attitudes, and place him instead firmly within the canon of great, landscape painters.