Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1868
I chose this painting from the second generation of Hudson River School artists because it reminded me vividly of a mental haven I created in my own favorite place in nature when I was a very young child. The choice of place, in its mountainous landscape with a forest of indeterminable length and a focus on the nearby waterfall, reminded me of the world I created in my mind sitting atop a hill away from the playground of my childhood after-school/summer camp. I would race away through the playground just to mount the small, but relatively steep hillside in order get away from the other kids, be at peace at the end of a tiresome day, and do what I did not realize at the time was meditation. The imaginary universe I would transport myself to was an unchanging naturescape very much like the place depicted in this painting. There was a very tall waterfall–atop of which was an open field of grass which stretched off into the hilly horizon– where I would always sit and look out across the rest of the world, consisting of an unending, all-encompassing forest reaching off to the other end of the horizon, spotted here and there with craggy mountaintops which interpreted the romanticism of “purple mountain majesty” in literal extremes. It was all envisioned in such vivid detail and color despite being an imaginary landscape, which the realistic qualities from the luminism in this painting captured incredibly well in Bierstadt’s recreation of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
As a painting itself, I find the focus on the hazziness of the clouds and distanced mountains as well as the light reflecting off of the water to be captivatingly realistic, and more than enough reason to fall in love with this piece all on its own. The focus on the absence of humans and the massive, widespread existence of nature coupled with the wistful, soft, hazey nature of the luminism leads to a similar feeling of tranquility as if one was meditating or relaxing, entirely alone in one’s natural safe space.