The painting itself has two distinct parts, depending on how you look at it. There is the small Matterhorn, which juts up from a somewhat flat background of vegetation and mountains. In front of this, there appears to be a valley full of fog with a stream meandering through it.
This mountain is one of the most distinctive natural features in Europe. It appears that the painting was completed while Bierstadt travelled through Italy. He looked out his hotel window and noticed how beautiful it was, so he quickly sketched down some ideas before heading out to work on more commissioned pieces. His quick note-taking allowed him to adapt it into this painting later on.
The large, dramatic brushstrokes portray the immense height of the Matterhorn and its sheer size compared to the smaller figures and objects in the painting. The sun is beginning to rise above the mountain, giving off a radiant glow that illuminates the already bright landscape sections. Although there are many features of this painting that are symbolic of religious allusions, the most obvious is the presence of a cross on one of the Matterhorn's peaks. This represents faith in humanity as if their religion will protect them from this massive mountain.
The dynamic brushstrokes, bright colours, and religious overtones make this painting a representation of Romanticism. This style was popular during Bierstadt's time because it reminded people that there were beautiful things in the world, and it encouraged people to travel outside of their comfort zones to see them. In the original painting and most reproductions, the faint glow of sunlight begins to break through the fog (which, along with the rest of the painting's colours), seem somewhat muted. The grassy area in front of it is painted in greens, while there are dark blue greens near the glacier at the foot of the mountain.
However, if you look at it from a different perspective, you can make out the tremendous size of the mountain. What was previously a small rock poking through the landscape becomes an enormous cliff surrounding one side of a valley filled with waterfalls. The very distant mountains are still tinted with orange and pink, while their bases are cast in coloured shadows under them. Sunrise on the Matterhorn is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He is a celebrated artist today, and his paintings attract crowds from all over the world. You may also be interested in other artworks from his career such as Forest Sunrise, Rocky Mountain Landscape and Valley of the Yosemite.