Born in Germany, Bierstadt was raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He returned to Germany in 1853 to study at Dusseldorf where he refined his considerable technical abilities painting Alpine landscapes. After returning to New Bedford in 1857, Bierstadt sought fresh inspiration and elected to join an expedition surveying new overland routes to the Pacific which departed from St. Joseph, Missouri in 1859. Bierstadt was captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the pristine Western landscape and wrote: "...the wildness and abandon of nature here is very attractive to an artistic eye, and every day nature seems to grow more lovely and beautiful."
Bierstadt took countless photographs and made sketches of the majestic mountain ranges and dramatic rock formations along the route that became the studies for massive canvases painted in his New York studio. The artist's rugged, romanticized landscapes of the West, painted on a grand scale with an abundance of detail and dramatic lighting, captured the imagination of 19th century art collectors and their interest catapulted Bierstadt to the top of the American art market. His paintings brought record prices and Bierstadt enjoyed tremendous success and recognition.