Best known for his panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains, Albert Bierstadt began his career as a painter of European landscapes. In 1856, during a period of study abroad, he spent time in Switzerland and completed the plein air sketches he would later use to compose Lake Lucerne, the most important painting of his early career.

In the spring of 1858 he sent the painting to New York for the annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design. The picture caused a sensation. Bierstadt was hailed as a bright new star on the American art stage and was elected an honorary member of the Academy.

Bierstadt's painting offers a sweeping view of Lake Lucerne with the village of Brunnen in the middle distance and the alpine peaks Ematten, Oberbauen, Uri–Rotstock and St. Gotthard in the distance. Though an image of mountain grandeur, Lake Lucerne also contains numerous pastoral vignettes—a harvest scene near the center, a religious procession at the right, and a gypsy camp at the left.

One year after completing Lake Lucerne Bierstadt traveled to the Rocky Mountains for the first time. During the decade that followed he produced the western landscapes that brought him his greatest success. These views of the west, so often described as distinctly American, were born of Bierstadt's experience abroad and frequency duplicate the composition of the first of his large–scale landscapes, Lake Lucerne.


  • Title: Lake Lucerne
  • Date Created: 1858
  • Physical Dimensions: w3048 x h1829 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Richard M. Scaife and Margaret R. Battle, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: topographical, Switzerland
  • School: American
  • Provenance: Purchased from the artist by Alvin Adams [1804 1877], Watertown, Massachusetts, by 14 December 1858;[1] his estate; (his estate sale, Leonard & Co., Boston, 16 17 March 1882, 2nd day, no. 109); Hezekiah Conant [1827 1902], Pawtucket, Rhode Island;[2] William Leroy Sunderland [d. 1938], Exeter, Rhode Island, circa 1890;[3] his wife, Pearl Joslin Tarbox Sunderland Rose [d. 1989], Exeter, Rhode Island; (her estate sale, Northern Appraisers, Warwick, Rhode Island, 13 October 1990, no. 43).[4] [1] On 14 December 1858 the New Bedford Daily Mercury reported "Mr. Bierstadt has disposed of his oil painting of 'Lake Lucerne' to a gentleman in Boston [Alvin Adams], for the sum of $925." Orphaned as a young boy, Adams [1804 1877] later rose to prominence and acquired a substantial fortune as founder and president of the Adams Express Company. In 1860 he built Fairhaven, a lavish home in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he displayed his art collection in a gallery open to the public one day a week. [2] Alvin Adams died 1877 but his art collection was not sold until 1882. On 18 March 1882 the Boston Globe reported that Lake Lucerne had been purchased at the Adams sale by Mr. H[ezekiah] Conant of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for $3375. Conant [1827 1902], an inventor and manufacturer, had established the Conant Thread Company in Pawtucket in 1868. For many years the largest employer in the state, he succeeded in forging profitable alliances with European thread manufacturers including J. & P. Coats Company, Ltd., of Paisley, Scotland, which began operating the Conant Thread Company as one of its branches in 1893. [3] The New York Times (11 June 1990) reported that John D. Lynch, executor of the Rose estate, said he was told by Mrs. Rose that William L. Sunderland, her first husband, had acquired the painting in the 1890s. [4] Lake Lucerne was purchased at auction by Richard York of Richard York Gallery, New York, acting on behalf of the National Gallery of Art with funds provided by Richard M. Scaife and Margaret R. Battle.
  • Artist: Albert Bierstadt

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