Nothing stays the same, especially moving water. Except in a painting, of course.
Here we see the Horseshoe Falls from above. The water is moving powerfully. You can see the strength of the current in the waves and eddies and patches of white water where river’s smooth flow is broken as it approaches the lip of the falls. You can see it in the turbulent tumble of the water over the lip.
A misty spray rises from the falling water we cannot see. The sky above is cloudy; the land behind the falls is mistily hazy. Out of the turbulence and spray two rainbows rise. A log floats perilously close to the lip of the falls. The flowing water is richly colored and full of light and shadow.
The artist was Albert Bierstadt; this is the kind of scene he loved to paint. There is movement, power and turbulence in the flow of the water. Against that turbulence the mistiness rising from the falls creates a peaceful area. Above the turbulence and out of the mistiness rise two of the rainbows the falls are famous for, arcs of color against the blues of sky and water and the gentle shades of the mist and clouds. Power, peace, beauty and hope are all there. It is a surprisingly powerful painting.
There was a power and boldness to the man. He painted on large canvases, meant to fill a drawing-room wall, and his ambitions were similarly large. At the height of his popularity he actively pursued commissions, received awards, established his reputation as a man who knew how to live well, and commanded large sums for his large works. In America he was admired as much for his entrepreneurship as his painting – and his painting was much admired by many for a while.
He was a well-known member of the American Hudson River School, and his popularity rose and fell with theirs. As interest in the style of painting he espoused diminished he fell from favor in America and abroad. Now, his birth in Germany and his return there to study with the Dusseldorf School in his twenties made him the ‘Dusseldorf painter’, somehow non-American in his character and his work. This even though his family had moved to America and settled there only two years after he was born, and he had lived, explored and painted there most of his life.
Bierstadt’s fame and popularity faded as people’s interests changed. He declared bankruptcy seven years before his death, and died, forgotten by much of the art world, in 1902.
Nothing stays the same.