Why is 'The Last of The Buffalo' an Important Painting

Why is ‘The Last of The Buffalo’ an Important Painting?

The renowned Western picture ‘The Last of the Buffalo’ by Albert Bierstadt is his last and plausibly most famous painting. Its dimensions, six by ten feet, are identical to his first large-scale work, Lake Lucerne (1858), which is also housed in the National Gallery of Art collection.

Albert Bierstadt’s artwork The Last of the Buffalo provides a window into the past. Bison herds that once counted in the millions were all but wiped off during the second part of the nineteenth century. As a result of seeing these events firsthand, Bierstadt created an allegorical picture in 1888.

In this article, we will discuss why this painting – Albert Bierstadt is most famous. We will examine its art, its significance, and the message it passed across. Read on to find out more about The Last of The Buffalo.

Who was Albert Bierstadt? 

Albert Bierstadt was an active German-American painter during the late 19th century. He was best known for his landscape paintings of the American West, depicting the natural world’s beauty and grandeur. Bierstadt was born in 1830 in Solingen Germany, and immigrated to the United States with his family as a two-year-old toddler. As a young man, he was interested in art and began studying painting with artists in New York.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Bierstadt traveled extensively throughout the American West, including California, Nevada, and Oregon. During these trips, he made sketches and took photographs of the breathtaking landscapes he encountered. 

In his studio, he used these references to create large, detailed, and highly realistic paintings showcasing the American West’s majesty. Bierstadt’s paintings were popular with American audiences, and he became one of the most successful artists of his time. He was especially known for his depictions of the Rocky Mountains and Yosemite Valley, which he painted with a keen eye for detail and a sense of awe and reverence for the beauty of the natural world. Bierstadt died in 1902, but his paintings continue to inspire and captivate people even to this day.

Albert Bierstadt Painting Style

Bierstadt was known for his grand, sweeping landscape paintings that captured the beauty and majesty of the American West. Albert Bierstadt style of painting was characterized by keen attention to detail and dramatic use of light and color. In addition, Bierstadt often painted large, panoramic scenes that showed the grandeur and vastness of the Western landscape. 

He used his knowledge of the natural world, combined with his artistic skills, to create scientifically accurate and aesthetically pleasing works. In his paintings, he often used warm, golden tones to evoke a sense of the American frontier, and he carefully composed his scenes to highlight the beauty and drama of the natural world. 

Bierstadt’s paintings have a romantic quality that reflects his love of the West and his deep appreciation for the beauty of nature.

The Last of The Buffalo

This painting was Albert Bierstadt’s last and is perhaps his most famous. He sketched a variety of motifs throughout numerous trips to the west to create an ambitious landscape. The view, which is composite in nature, includes a variety of topographical elements typical of the Great Plains: the injured and dead buffalo are situated in a dry, golden meadow in the foreground; their counterparts cross a wide river in the middle ground; and others graze as far as the eye can see as the scene changes to prairies, hills, mesas, and snow-capped peaks. A variety of plains fauna, such as elk, coyotes, antelope, pronghorn, fox, rabbits, and even a prairie dog at lower left, is supported by the lush topography.

Many of these creatures turn to face the main attraction: a mounted guy engaged in combat with a charging buffalo. In contrast to his meticulous documentation of the flora and animals, the artist’s depiction of this battle and the seemingly endless herds surrounding it is more of a romantic fantasy than an authentic representation of life on the frontier. The buffalo was close to going extinct when Bierstadt painted this picture.

The number of animals has decreased from 30 million at the beginning of the century to only approximately 1,000. One researcher called Bierstadt’s work “a superbly designed fantasy that addressed contemporary issues”, one that recalls, even regrets, the devastation inflicted by advancing civilization. Bierstadt did this by scattering buffalo skulls and other bones about the bloody conflict.

However, at this time, support for efforts to protect the buffalo started to grow. William T. Hornaday, a taxidermist at the Smithsonian Institution, became a preservationist after seeing the annihilation of the buffalo in the West in 1886. With specimens for the Smithsonian and live buffalo for the National Zoo, which he helped build in 1889, he left for Washington the year after Bierstadt finished this picture.

Why is It an Important Painting?

“The Last of the Buffalo” is an important painting by Albert Bierstadt because it symbolizes the end of an era in American history. The painting depicts a lone buffalo in the foreground with a vast, empty landscape stretching out behind it. The buffalo symbolizes the once-thriving herds of buffalo that roamed the American West. Its solitude speaks to the idea that this way of life and these magnificent creatures are rapidly disappearing. In addition, the artwork serves as a powerful reminder of human settlement and expansion’s impact on the natural world, highlighting the importance of preserving and protecting the environment.

Additionally, “The Last of the Buffalo” is significant because it showcases Bierstadt’s skill as an artist. The painting is beautifully composed and painted with great attention to detail, and it effectively conveys a sense of loneliness and loss. It is a stunning example of Bierstadt’s mastery of light, color, and perspective, and it remains one of his most beloved and memorable works. Today, “The Last of the Buffalo” is considered a masterpiece of Western American art, and it is globally recognized as one of the most significant paintings of the American West.


Conclusively, “The Last of the Buffalo” by Albert Bierstadt is a significant work of art that portrays the passing of a period in American history and the effects of human habitation on the natural environment. It serves as a reminder of the grandeur and magnificence of the American West and emphasizes the significance of maintaining the natural world. The picture also displays Bierstadt’s extraordinary artistic talent, making it a Western American masterpiece that is still well-known and respected today. One of Bierstadt’s most well-known and enduring pieces, “The Last of the Buffalo”, continues to enthrall and inspire audiences even now.

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