When Fine Art Investigations celebrated the birth of Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) on January 7, we learned that the subject of one of his few, if not only, extant portrait by Albert Bierstadt was of John Tyndall (1820-1893) . Tyndall was a physicist and Darwinian proponent. What does that fact say about Bierstadt? The question begged to be explored further.
I discovered a bit more from American Paintings at Harvard, Volume 2. There, the owners of the piece stated that Bierstadt painted the portrait in watercolor from an 1865 photograph. Using photographs was a common practice for Bierstadt, but the use of watercolor was not. The portrait was probably painted “around the time of Tyndall’s death in 1893, when the photograph appeared in several American magazines.” Harvard researchers found no verifiable connection to the two men:.
An eminent Victorian, Tyndall may have attended a dinner held in London in 1868 that Bierstadt threw in honor of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; or perhaps the men met during Tyndall’s barnstorming lecture tour of the eastern U.S. in 1872. Tyndall donated the profits to science programs at several universities, including Harvard. The portrait was purchased by Dr. Thomas Barbour of the Harvard Zoological Museum in 1839, apparently to commemorate Tyndall’s gift.
Tyndall was a proponent of science; Bierstadt, a painter of nature. Though Bierstadt is well-known for creative license in his landscapes, in the details, he adhered to scientific accuracy. Bierstadt’s portrait of Tyndall suggests the artist admired physicist’s teachings. What did the two men have in common. We still don’t know. A dissertation topic, anyone?
Patricia Moss fineartinvestigations at gmail
 Kevin Moore, “Albert Bierstadt, John Tyndall” in Theodore E. Stebbbins,Virginia Anderson, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume 2, (Yale University Press, 2008) 48-49.