Yosemite > Library > Yosemite Indians & Other Sketches > Early Artists in Yosemite >
Next: Cemetery • Contents • Previous: Peregoy Register
EARLY ARTISTS IN YOSEMITE
THE FIRST PICTURE OF YOSEMITE VALLEY
he landscape artist, Thomas A. Ayres, was one of five men who trailed into Yosemite Valley in 1855 with the pioneer, James Mason Hutchings, who engaged the artist to make drawings for his proposed magazine, the California Monthly. The first view of the Valley was from Inspiration Point and here on June 20, 1855, Thomas Ayres drew a sketch, the first ever made of Yosemite Valley. On the pencil drawing the artist wrote: “Thos. A. Ayres, Del. 1855.” On the mat of the picture he records: “Drawn from Nature by T. A. Ayres, No. 1.” The party remained in the Valley five days. The artist, in addition to this first sketch, made four other drawings as follows:
El Capitan. In the lower left hand corner of the picture the artist has written, “Drawn from Nature by Thos. A. Ayres, 1855.” On the original mat are the words: “Scene in the Valley of the Yo Hemity, California. The Cliff of El Capitan, looking West.”
Yosemite Domes. On this drawing is written, “Thos. A. Ayres, 1855”; on the mat, “The Domes of the Yosemite. From the Valley looking East, Morning.”
Cascades of the Rainbow. On the drawing the artist wrote: “Cascade of the Rainbow. Valley of the Yo Hemity, California. Drawn from Nature by Thos. A. Ayres, 1855.”
The High Falls, now called Yosemite Falls. On the original mat is written, “The High Falls, Valley of the Yosemite, California. Drawn from Nature by T. A. Ayres, 1855, No. 5.”
The High Falls was the first Yosemite picture to be published. Copies of the lithograph taken from the original are much sought by collectors of Californiana and command high prices.
In 1856 Thomas Ayres took a second trip into Yosemite, this time on his own account, and made drawings in and about the Valley. (See photographic copies in California State Library, Sacramento.) Some of these were secured by Admiral James Alden, of Boston, Coast survey appointee in 1853, who came to California to settle the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. Before his return to Boston in 1860, he visited Yosemite Valley and procured the five original drawings made by Ayres in 1855, and two other drawings made in 1856; namely:
Falls of Ta-sa-yue, now called Illilouette. On the mat the artist wrote: “Falls of Ta-sa-yue, South Fork, Valley of the Yosemite, California. Drawn from Nature, Thos. A. Ayres.”
Falls of Ca-no-pah, now called Vernal Falls. On this picture is written: “Falls of Ca-no-pah, Middle Fork, Valley of Yosemite, California. Drawn from nature by Thos. A. Ayres, 1856. No. 8.”
To Admiral James Alden the seven original drawings were the finest and choicest souvenirs of the Valley. For three-quarters of a century these drawings remained in the possession of the Alden family. Now, through the generosity of his grandniece, Mrs. Ernest Bowditch, the seven pictures may be seen by all visitors to the Valley in the Yosemite Museum. In 1926, the five original drawings made in 1855 and also a lithograph of the first picture made, General View of the Great Yosemite Valley, together with two original drawings made in 1856, were presented to the United States National Park Service by Mrs. Ernest Bowditch, Mrs. Charles Wells Hubbard, and Mrs. Augustus H. Eustis.
Ayres’ description of his second trip into Yosemite Valley, published in the Daily Alta California, August 6, 1856, attracted attention. The following year, 1857, his drawings were exhibited in New York, and he was engaged by Harpers to illustrate several articles on California. En route from San Pedro to San Francisco on the schooner, Laura Bevan, Thomas Ayres was lost at sea when the schooner capsized off the Farallone Islands in April, 1858.
In his book, Discovery of the Yosemite (published 1880, p. 311), Dr. L. H. Bunnell, who accompanied Ayres on his trip into the Valley in 1856, speaks of the artist thus:
“. . . Mr. Ayres . . . was the first to sketch any of the scenery of the Yosemite. He was afterwards employed in sketching by Harpers, of New York. . . . Mr. Ayres was a gentleman in feeling and manners. His ingenuity and adaptability to circumstances, with his kindness and good nature, made him the very soul of the party.”
Thomas Ayres was born in New Jersey; he came to California in 1849. His drawings—the first pictures ever made of Yosemite scenery—are a distinct and priceless contribution for their historic as well as artistic value. His untimely death cut short a career of great possibilities.
Thomas Hill, pioneer artist of Yosemite, was born in Birmingham, England, in 1829, and came to America in early childhood. In 1854 he studied art in Philadelphia; later he studied a year in Paris.
In 1861 Hill took up his residence in San Francisco and the same year established his studio in the beautiful Wawona Meadow. In her book, The Round Trip, published 1890, Susie Clark says: “The Studio of Thomas Hill located here [Wawona] is an interesting place to visit, its gallery of art treasures being freely open to all.”
Hill was a landscape painter, mostly of California scenes. His residence in Yosemite and his paintings of Yosemite scenes gave him the title “Pioneer artist of Yosemite.” Among the paintings by Hill to be seen at the Yosemite Museum are Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls painted on red wood panels, several canvasses in oil, and a painting of the California Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea).
Mrs. H. W. R. Strong, of Los Angeles, when visiting Yosemite in July, 1928, told the writer of her acquaintance with the artist. Hill’s painting, The Cow, she remarked, was noted because that cow was the first to be brought into Yosemite for home use, and when Hill died in 1908, she bought the picture. It was at that time hanging on the wall of his studio. She also bought El Capitan and the Merced.
Hill attained a high rank in his art. Galen Clark, in his book, Yosemite Indians (p. 111), says: “He was awarded thirty-two first medals.” Among Hill’s well-known paintings are: Valley of Yosemite, Donner Lake, Muir Glacier, Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and The Last Spike—this the best known of his paintings. Its value is chiefly historical. The connection of the Union Pacific Railroads in 1869 was a triumphant and significant event in the development of the United States.
Albert Bierstadt was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1829 and was brought to America as a babe. As a young man he studied art in Dusseldorf for four years and in Rome for a year. He returned to America in 1857. The following year he took a trip overland by wagon. He made sketches and laid the foundation for a score of large canvasses. The following data are from letters received by the writer from Mrs. Bierstadt’s nieces.
In 1866 Albert Bierstadt married Rosalie Osborne, of Waterville, New York, after whom he named Mount Rosalie in Colorado. Rosalie Osborne, well educated, beautiful, and charming, was a fitting companion for the already well-known artist. Three exquisite portraits of her are still in the family. Education, culture, and interesting personalities gave to Mr. and Mrs. Bierstadt open door and they were royally received wherever they journeyed.
They had a beautiful home at Irvington-on-the-Hudson, called “Malkasten” (the Painter’s Box). It was built by the artist in 1865, of gneiss rock, was 100 feet by 75 feet, contained thirty-five rooms, and a studio 50 feet by 75 feet, with a ceiling 35 feet high. Many members of the English nobility were entertained in this home.
Photograph by Mora, New York
In 1867 the artist was sent to Europe by our Government to study for his painting, Discovery of the North River by Hendrik Hudson, which, when finished, was hung in the Capitol at Washington.
The Bierstadts had no children, but no Uncle and Aunt could have been more beloved by nieces and nephews and by the children in the homes they visited. In 1893, due to tuberculosis, the artist was robbed of his splendid companion and charming wife when she was still young. Her death was keenly felt for she was beloved and admired by all who knew her.
Among the treasures prized by the nieces are “Aunt Rosalie’s” two autograph albums filled with letters and pictures of famous writers, artists, and other people of note and prominence. Many of Mrs. Bierstadt’s pieces of rare and beautiful jewelry are also in their possession, as well as a number of “Uncle Albert’s” paintings and sketches.
Albert Bierstadt was more than a painter of great landscapes. He was interested in the animal life of the country and had a deep feeling for the Indian. An article on the National Academy of Design, which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Monthly in 1888, says: “While in his teens, Albert Bierstadt began to see that the aboriginal life of this continent had not yet found any adequate interpreter on canvas. He read with avidity the works of the then portrayers of the early life of the continent. Irving, Cooper, Prescott, and others inspired him with an idea to rescue the aboriginal life from oblivion and perpetuate it in natural and historical studies in color.”
He made a study of wild-horned animals, and had many specimens of deer, wapati, mountain sheep and goats, from the time the horns start to grow until they are the most perfect specimens obtainable. He had fourteen wapati heads. He had, also, a great number of valuable studies and sketches and a book written by the Indians in their own language and illustrated by them. In it, Sitting Bull had written a sketch of himself. During ten years in the Rocky Mountains, Bierstadt had made a collection of Indian costumes, carvings, implements and paraphernalia of various tribes, which he considered priceless. All these things, together with many of his paintings, were destroyed when Irvington-on-the-Hudson was burned in 1882.
When Albert Bierstadt married Rosalie Osborne, her father built a studio for the artist. In a letter received by the writer in June, 1935, from Mrs. Bierstadt’s niece, she states: “The studio is still standing as originally built on the Osborne estate in Waterville, New York. It is a quaint building reminding one of a green house with its many tiny glass windows. The studio is used today just as it was built in 1866.”
Bierstadt was a pioneer in portraying the lofty grandeur of the Rockies and the Sierra. His pictures became famous and attracted international attention. On one of his western trips “. . . Idaho Springs (Colorado) was visited in 1863 by Albert Bierstadt, the greatest American landscape painter. . . . Mr. Bierstadt soon went home to New York and in a little over two years had finished his great picture, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains. . . . In the winter of 1865-6 the picture was placed on exhibition in New York . . . and the proceeds from admission were donated to the relief of destitute soldiers’ orphans. It attracted great attention and endless criticism. Its only rival in public estimation was Church’s Heart of the Andes, then in a private gallery in New York. . . . The picture, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, went to Paris in 1867 to a world’s exposition, where it was almost immediately sold for $20,000. Mr. Bierstadt had recently completed another great picture, The Last of the Buffalo.” (Magazine of Western History, Vol. II, p. 237.)
Mr. Bierstadt, like many other artists, was attracted to Yosemite and thrilled with its scenes. Near Lady Franklin Rock is Register Rock, where in the early days, tolls were collected from all tourists taking the trail to Glacier Point. “. . . There is one entry upon a sloping side of rock that is perhaps worthy of notice, as it reads, ‘Camped here August 21, 1863, A. Bierstadt, Virgil Williams, E. W. Perry, Fitzhugh Ludlum.’ It was during this visit to the valley that Mr. Bierstadt made the sketch from which his famous picture, The Domes of Yosemite, was afterwards painted.” (In the Heart of the Sierras, J. M. Hutchings, p. 441).
Bierstadt made other trips to Yosemite. In the Perogoy register we find: “May 24, 1872 A. Bierstadt.” Mrs. Bierstadt accompanied the artist on a third trip, writes her niece. They camped in Yosemite Valley and also at Hetch Hetchy where the artist painted the valley that is now a reservoir.
On his frequent visits to San Francisco the artist was the guest of Cutler McAllister, one of San Francisco’s prominent pioneers, whose home was on Rincon Hill. A letter received from M. Hall McAllister, son of Cutler McAllister, states: “Bierstadt was a frequent visitor at my father’s residence, having brought a letter of introduction on his first coming to California. This was way back in the sixties but I well remember his visits. He was evidently fond of children as he drew little sketches of all kinds for us. I well remember his visit in 1872 for one incident especially. One day after lunch he took our children’s paints and quickly penciled the outline of a butterfly with open wings. He then painted one wing, folded the two wings together, then opened them to the admiring glances of the children as they beheld the complete butterfly.”
The McAllister family prizes an engraving, twenty-four by thirty-six, of “The Rocky Mountains,“ one of Bierstadt’s large canvasses, signed “Painted by A. Bierstadt.”
Albert Bierstadt received honors both at home and abroad. Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, and Germany awarded him medals. In a letter Mrs. Bierstadt’s niece states: “Uncle Albert also received the Order of St. Stanislaus from Russia in 1869 and again 1872 when the Czar also presented him a loving cup. He received the Imperial Order of the Medjid from the Sultan of Turkey in 1886.” In 1860 he became a member of the National Academy. In 1867 he was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. Among the canvasses of Albert Bierstadt are the following with their time and location:
1861—Laramie Peak. Buffalo Academy of Fine Arts.
1863—Landers’ Peak. London.
1863—Rocky Mountains with Indian Encampment. Metropolitan Museum in New York.
1864—North Fork Platte River. Bought by Judge Henry Hilton, New York.
1864—Looking Up Yosemite Valley. Presented to Yosemite Museum by Charlotte Bowditch Estate.
1866—El Capitan and Merced River. Bought by Lucien Tuckerman.
1866—Valley of Yosemite. In New York Library.
1866—The Burning Ship. Bought by August Belmont.
1875—Valley of Kern River. Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
1877—Estes Park. Earl of Devonshire.
1877—Domes of Yosemite. Athaneum, at St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
1878—Mountain Lake. Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C.
1886—Old Faithful. Yildiz Palace of the Sultan on the Bosporus.
Discovery of the North River by Hendric Hudson, and Settlement of California, were both painted by Bierstadt for the Capitol at Washington.
About the time of Bierstadt’s death in 1902, the tendency in landscape art was toward the small, quiet, more intimate canvasses. As a painter of magnificent scenery on large canvasses, Albert Bierstadt stands secure.
Chris Jorgensen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1860. At the age of ten years he came to America making California his home. He was interested in drawing and painting from earliest childhood and was the first student to enroll in the California School of Fine Arts organized in San Francisco in 1874. From 1881 to 1883 he was assistant director of the school. In his sketch class was Angela Ghirardelli, a young society girl of San Francisco, a gifted
In 1892 Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen went to Italy, the homeland of Angela Ghirardelli, where they spent two years with Italy’s great artists. Shortly after returning Jorgensen built a studio home in Yosemite, for which he drew the plan and did much of the labor of building. The panel over the fire-place—a study of heads —was the work of Mrs. Jorgensen. The artist made all the furniture in this studio home. Mr. Jorgensen says of this home: “The studio proper is a room twenty-four feet square and is always open during the summer for friend or stranger. The big, broad porch of our cottage—ten feet in width—is a main lounging place and it is here that most of the social life goes on.” This studio he used for twenty years. It was here that he began his painting of Yosemite scenes, most of which canvases were sold from the studio. Among these were “Yosemite in the Winter,” “Cathedral Spires,” and “Happy Isles.” Other noted pictures of this period are “Mount Lyell at Sunset,” “Big Trees,” and the entire “Yosemite Valley,” the canvas needed for this painting was so large that it was taken to the point of view on a truck and here the artist did his work.
Chris Jorgensen had a deep feeling for the old missions which he expressed on canvases. When in 1905 he built a studio home at Carmel-by-the-Sea he painted the Carmel Mission for the panel above the fire-place. He also built a bungalow at Pebble Beach. His home on the Piedmont Hills, surrounded by trees and shrubs and winding ways, was an artist’s home built for the family; for artist friends; for the social life of the son and daughter and their friends; it was built to meet the unlimited hospitality which characterized both Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen. It was a rambling house of many rooms in each of which a picture from nature in its changing moods was framed in.
Chris Jorgensen had a studio home in his beloved San Francisco where he was also a member of the Bohemian Club and where his pictures were frequently exhibited. His canvases are many and will live for their portrayal of mountain grandeur; of boisterous waters; of quiet meadows; of by-gone mission days; of fishermen and wharves. One great picture will live in history. This canvas is the expression of the artist’s love and distress for the city that fell in April, 1906. It bears the title “San Francisco in Ruins.”
In Galen Clark’s book, Yosemite Indians, published in 1904, are four drawings by Chris Jorgensen. The cover design and the drawing of a “Chuck'-ah” are by Mrs. Jorgensen. Jorgensen’s portrait of Galen Clark, etched on a slab of red-wood, has, for many years hung in the Yosemite Museum and is much admired.
Chris Jorgensen died at his Piedmont studio after a brief illness on June 25, 1935. Only a few months later, in February, 1936, Mrs. Jorgensen died. The recaptured picture, “Along the Wharves,” was still hanging on the wall of her room, a precious token of girlhood days. The son, Virgil Jorgensen, is the only survivor, the daughter having died some years ago.
By the will of Mrs. Jorgensen many of her husband’s paintings are bequeathed to the United States Government for exhibit at the Yosemite Museum.
A number of excellent photographs taken from paintings by William E. Keith are in Yosemite Museum. Like all artists who came to Yosemite, Keith was impressed by its natural features. The existing number of his works is comparatively small because much that he considered his best, was destroyed in the San Francisco fire in 1906 and Keith died a few years later.
When Dr. Tevis’ art treasures were put up at auction in June, 1934, the San Francisco Chronicle of June 20, 1934, said: “Much of the interest was in the offering of a collection of the paintings of William Keith, long acclaimed the greatest of California painters. . . . Though there were many longing looks toward the mellow, yellowish, and green landscapes, there were no bids and the auctioneer’s starter of $250.00 for the famous The Oaks, appraised at $6500, remained undisputed. The painting will be sent to New York and London.”
Thomas Moran, perhaps the most widely known and best beloved of American landscape painters, died at Santa Barbara, California, on August 25, 1926. He was born in Bolton, England, on January 12, 1837. In 1844 the family emigrated to America and located in the cultural and art loving city of Philadelphia.
At the age of twenty-one Moran exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1858. His work attracted attention and his art was recognized. In 1862 he returned to England to study the work of Turner. In 1866 he went to Europe to study the French and Italian masters.
Moran made his first trip west in 1871, a guest of the United States Geological Survey conducted by F. V. Hayden. He expressed his feeling and ardent zeal for the West on his many canvases, best known of which is “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” It was enthusiastically received, congress appropriated money for its purchase and placed it in the capitol. This was but the beginning of Moran’s work inspired by a grandeur in nature he had not dreamed of The West had cast its spell upon him; one trip followed another until the regions of Colorado and Utah, the Tetons of Wyoming where he sketched the peak named in his honor, Yosemite Valley hidden away in the Sierra, Arizona with its desert and its Grand Canyon of the Colorado were all known to him and he teemed with inspiration to express on canvas their lure and beauty. His canvas, “Chasm of the Colorado,” was also purchased by congress and hangs with its companion piece on the walls of the capitol.
National parks were not in existence when Moran, on his early western trips painted rare and outstanding creations in nature, yet eight scenes which he interpreted are now in national parks and monuments. His was an unconscious but vital influence in arousing interest in the value of national parks.
Not only the rugged scenery of the West attracted Thomas Moran; he also saw and felt the quiet beauty in the stillness of lakes and meadows. The University of Wisconsin owned two large and beautiful canvases by him. “Sunset on Lake Mendota” and “Sunrise on Lake Monona” had rare touches of reality and feeling. It was a loss to the state when, in 1884, they were destroyed by a fire on the campus.
The artist was a home loving man. The dunes and oaks and quiet places about Long Island where he lived for forty years were subjects for many canvases.
Nine years after the death of Thomas Moran his daughter, Miss Ruth R. Moran, presented to the United States “The Thomas Moran Art Collection of the National Parks.” Dr. F. M. Fryxell, of the National Park Service, says: “This collection, includes nearly 300 items. It has been temporarily assigned to Yosemite Park because of the many Yosemite subjects it contains, and because of the facilities available in the Yosemite Museum for its display under fireproof conditions.”
Moran’s love for Yosemite never ceased to draw him to the Valley. Yosemite was the objective of his second journey into the Westin 1872. He returned three times: in 1874 with his wife, and in 1904 and 1922 with his younger daughter, Ruth, who speaks
Photograph by Gledhill
The collection includes many originals dating back to Moran’s first trips into the West. There are 61 pencil sketches; 15 black and white wash drawings; 7 water-color sketches; 6 etchings; 18 lithographs; 2 large charcoal drawings; 2 oil paintings; and 60 illustrations from drawings on wood.
The great centers of art are not within range of the masses. But the development of museums in our national parks is rapidly bringing art in various forms to the millions who annually visit them. It seems most fitting that works of art of every kind be housed in the locality that inspired them.
Next: Cemetery • Contents • Previous: Peregoy Register