Albert Bierstadt belongs to the second generation of the Hudson River School and is best known for his panoramic views of the American West. Born in Germany and raised in Bedford, Massachusetts, Bierstadt returned to his native land in 1853 to study painting at the Düsseldorf Academy, where he developed his trademark of conveying theatrical effects of light and shadow.
After returning to the United States, Bierstadt traveled to the American West, at that time little explored and sparsely inhabited, to paint its scenery and to bring his pictures back to a curious public on the East Coast. In "California Spring", Bierstadt’s depiction of a pastoral scene along the banks of the Sacramento River celebrates the American West as an Eden-like paradise—overlooking the harsh realities of agricultural life in the Central Valley, such as recurrent droughts, overgrazing, and poverty.
Zoom in on the portion of the horizon flanked by California oak trees. In this area of the painting, Bierstadt painted the dome of the Sacramento State Capitol in minute detail. Constructed in 1874, just one year before Bierstadt finished "California Spring", this landmark building was a notable addition to the landscape.