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Yosemite Falls, 1863

The way in which the vision to preserve Yosemite was shared was also important in the creation of the park. Writers like John Muir painted word portraits of Yosemite. But artists, including painters, photographers, and print makers came on their own or were invited on trips into the Sierras by early hotel keepers to promote Yosemite as a destination. Some even took up residence in the valley. Their work was important in both building public awareness of Yosemite and in persuading legislators to save the park.

Albert Bierstadt came to Yosemite in 1863. He painted in the tradition of the Hudson River School of artists. His work, like that of Thomas Hill who also painted in this style, showed a particular relationship between civilization on the one hand and wilderness on the other.

When Bierstadt made his first trip to Yosemite he was on the verge of establishing himself as one of America's foremost landscape painters. In fact, his paintings of the valley helped to make his reputation. They also helped to acquaint the members of Congress who would vote in 1864 to preserve the valley with its wonders.

[Images 1 & 2] with link to higher quality photo.

To Start You Thinking -

1) Which elements of the paintings are in the light? which in shadow? In which part of the paintings do you find the men and their domestic livestock?

2) Describe what you notice about the relative size of the men and horses in the paintings compared not only with the falls and mountains, but the nearby trees as well.

3) Compared to many of Bierstadt's other works, Yosemite Falls is a fairly realistic, unromanticized picture of its subject. Compare the painting with the black and white photos of The Falls of Yosemite taken a year or two later by Carlton Watkins. What elements of the scene, if any, do you think Bierstadt romanticized?

4) Review the description of the scene on entering Yosemite Valley in the Abram's diary entry (Introduction) and Maps of Yosemite Valley. Describe Albert Bierstadt's's location in the valley when he painted Valley View.

image from Albert Bierstadt, "Yosemite Falls, 1863," courtesy of theTimken Museum of Art.

Last modified in February, 2011 by Rick Thomas