Bierstadt emigrated to America from Germany with his family in 1832. By age 18, he was offering art lessons, and held his first exhibition in Boston. He went on to study landscape painting in Germany, and worked alongside American artists Worthington Whittredge and Emanuel Leutze. Traveling west with surveying teams, Bierstadt discovered the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, a subject that would later make him famous and wealthy.
Later Bierstadt visited the Pacific Coast and Yosemite Valley. He was active in the burgeoning San Fransisco art scene, and joined the SF Art Institute and Bohemian Club, where he connected with artists and collectors. Bierstadt was among the earliest waves of visitors to Yosemite. He would visit Yosemite and create on-site sketches, collect examples of wildlife, Indian artifacts, and take photographs to use as references later in his studio. Bierstadt’s large-scale depictions of Yosemite Valley were the first to be shown to the Eastern public, and established it as a serious landscape subject.