Editor’s note: To mark Women’s History Month, The Standard-Times is publishing one profile per day from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s project “Lighting the Way: Historic Women of SouthCoast,” which explores the historical impact of women from the region. We hope that the stories of these historic women help to inspire current and future generations of SouthCoast women. We urge readers to visit historicwomensouthcoast.org to learn more.
Active in the local 19th-century art community of William Street, New Bedford’s “Gallery Row,” Eliza Bierstadt (1833-1896) was likely America’s first female art dealer. Eliza grew up in an artistic family. Brother Albert was the popular 19th-century American landscape painter, and brothers Charles and Edward, respected photographers known as the “Bierstadt Brothers.” Eliza, the youngest child of Christina and Henry Bierstadt who arrived in New Bedford from Germany in 1832 on George Howland’s ship Hope, was born in New Bedford on August 3, 1833.
New Bedford’s wealthy residents appreciated and could afford art, and the Bierstadts profited from this supportive environment. Eliza’s work as an art dealer began at the Ellis Art Gallery on William Street (now The Bedford Merchant) where she sold paintings by her brother and Charles Henry Gifford. She expanded the business to include Hudson River artists in Niagara Falls, New York, where she moved with brother Charles and sister Helen in 1867, living there until her death in 1896. Her art dealings included buying, selling, finding studio space, and setting up table displays at art fairs.
Letters to Eliza, held in the Albert Bierstadt Collection at the Winterthur Library in Delaware, reveal her savvy business skills, her knowledge of art supplies, and a busy social life. The collection contains a scrapbook compiled by Eliza documenting Albert’s career and her pivotal role in its advancement. The collection includes a butterfly created by Eliza, who learned…