The landscape painting Passing Storm in Yosemite completed in 1865 is one of the mesmerizing works of the German-born artist Albert Bierstadt. It shows a rendering of the Sierra Nevada’s scenery during one of the exploratory journeys in which Bierstadt took part through Western America.
The proportion of earth and sky is very traditional in this composition: the ground takes up one-third of it, whereas the sky the remaining two thirds. In the foreground, there’s a meadow of green grass with a lake or creek on the left, by which three men stand riding their horses. The water reflects the mountains and sky with an orange tone, which contrasts with the ground surrounding the river, for it is in shadows. The shapes of the men riding horses are almost black, for they stand against the light.
There are rocky mountains on the left side of the canvas, which continue into the distant background of the landscape. These are the Sierra Nevada mountain range in which the Yosemite region is located. The trees, on the right side of the picture, are also against the light, like the men on their horses, and both share the same color palette. These trees are massive, and their size can only be perceived given the human figures.
The sky takes on most of the composition which reinforces the impression of insignificance of the men. The upper part of the painting shows a dark-grey cloud which occupies alone one-third of the area of the canvas. The center of the painting is the brightest point in the whole composition. There Bierstadt placed the only leafless tree of the whole scenery. This allowed him to put more light on this element, making the sun seem more powerful, even though it is behind clouds.
This way of rendering the Western subject, with a prowling storm, allowed Bierstadt to play with the sunlight. By coming through the clouds, the sunlight increases the number of contrasts present in the scene, which enriches the composition. This placement of a very dark palette next to an extremely bright one is characteristic of the Romanticism, an art movement which profoundly influenced Bierstadt.
In 1853, at the age of 23, Bierstadt moved back to Germany to improve as a landscape painter. His studies took four years, during which he traveled to Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, always rendering the beautiful sceneries in fascinating paintings.
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