Born in Rotterdam, and growing up on the wharves of Amsterdam, Albertus van Beest is believed to have been trained by Dutch master Jan Hendrik van de Laar. At an early age he was sponsored by Prince Henry of the Netherlands who also appointed him as official artist of the Royal Dutch Fleet. On at least one occasion, van Beest accompanied Prince Henry on a voyage to the Far East as his personal artist.
After spending three years painting with the Dutch Fleet in the Mediterranean, van Beest spent a year in Iceland, then roamed the coasts of Brazil, Patagonia and the Falkland Islands before emigrating to New England via California in 1845.
Painting in both Boston and New York, van Beest was responsible for contributing substantially to the developing school of American Luminism. Among his better known students were William Bradford, with whom he produced several collaborations that bear both their signatures, and Robert Swain Gifford, both important artists of the Luminist movement in this country.