Executed circa 1869.
One of America's best known landscape painters of the nineteenth century, Albert Bierstadt traveled widely and produced important images of many iconic localities, among them Niagara Falls. While traveling, Bierstadt invariably sketched, often producing on site detailed oil paintings on paper, as with the present example. With its brilliant color and crisp rendition of details, Niagara Falls exemplifies the vibrant imagery for which these highly finished studies have long been valued.
Bierstadt visited Niagra Falls on a number of occasions (his brother resided nearby), and is known to have visited them with his wife in the fall of 1869. The painting relates closely to a similar composition entitled Niagara Falls at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Both are undated. Two other notable examples of the same subject, depicting the Falls from alternative vantage points, are Niagara Falls (oil on canvas, Thomas Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma), and Niagara (oil on paper, circa 1869, Private Collection, Massachusetts). (L. Ferber, Albert Bierstadt, Art & Enterprise, New York, 1990, p. 187, 212. G. Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt, Painter of the American West, New York, 1973, p. 185)
Bierstadt almost certainly based the Ottawa painting on the present work, which is nearly identical in composition. Both works share the same view-point, looking up towards the Falls from below. In both, the Falls and the Niagara River dominate the left side of the composition, and in both the artist places the rocky river bank in the foreground, with trees overhanging and framing the scene to the right. They are among the finest depictions by Bierstadt of this natural wonder of the American heartland.