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Yosemite Valley's Breathtaking Views Fill a Yale Art Gallery

At 'Yosemite: Exploring the Incomparable Valley,' the storied natural oasis is transcendent in landscape paintings and Ansel Adams photos.
September 25, 2016, 11:45am
Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail, ca. 1873, Albert Bierstadt. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Vincenzo Ardenghi. All images courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Yosemite Valley, a place of creative contemplation and soulful retreat will fill a gallery with its resplendent visuals this autumn. Taking place in the Yale University Art Gallery, the vast and endless beauty of Yosemite: Exploring the Incomparable Valley spills over the space in landscape paintings, collages, photographs, and realist sculpture. Each piece of artwork is a visual representation of Yosemite’s mythic history, beginning in the late-19th century when it evovled from wild terrain to federally-protected (but no less wild) public land.


The Trappers’ Camp, 1861, Albert Bierstadt. Oil on academy board, 13 x 19 in. Yale University Art Gallery, Whitney Collections of Sporting Art Fund, given in memory of Harry Payne Whitney, B.A. 1894, and Payne Whitney, B.A. 1898, by Francis P. Garvan, B.A. 1897, M.A. (Hon.) 1922

Yosemite Falls, 2634 ft., ca. 1865-66, Carleton E. Watkins. Albumen print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of George Hopper Fitch, B.A. 1932

Oak Tree, Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1948, Photograph by Ansel Easton Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with the Aid of Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts & the Eileen Bamberger Matching Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

A bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln offers a peek into the historical background of the national park services. In 1864, the 16th US president demonstrated a significant hand in beginning the national park system with the passing of the Yosemite Grant Act. The act offered federal protection to Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, a prosperous 550-acre sequoia plot, signifying the first classification of wilderness into protected land, and open to the public.

Standing Lincoln, ca. 1912, after 1884-87 original reduced in 1910, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Bronze with dark reddish-brown patina, 40 x 30 1/2 x 16 1/4 in. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Allison V. Armour, B.A. 1884

The Creators Project spoke with Mark Mitchell, the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Gallery, about the motivation and interesting history of the Valley: “The show [begins] with a single painting, Albert Bierstadt’s massive Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail (ca. 1873), the scale of which was intended to immerse viewers in the landscape," Mitchell says. "That’s what we want to do: offer our visitors a range of ways to appreciate Yosemite alongside artists and scientists.”

Yosemite Valley – California: The Bridal Veil' Fall, 1866, Currier & Ives. Colored lithograph.Yale University Art Gallery, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection

Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, Yosemite National Park, California, ca. 1938 (printed later), Photograph by Ansel Easton Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with the Aid of Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts & the Eileen Bamberger Matching Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

View from the handrail at Glacier Point overlook, connecting views from Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins, 2004, Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Pigmented inkjet print. Yale University Art Gallery, Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund. © Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe

The exhibition aims to transport viewers to the National Park grounds while also weaving factual information of Yosemite’s ascension from wilderness to protected terrain. Mitchell continues, “You can marvel at Bierstadt’s dramatic painting, touch a piece of El Capitan granite, see an early view from Glacier Point Trail in 3D through a stereo viewer, and contemplate the photographs that convinced Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, when he had a few other things to think about.”


The Sentinel Rock, 3270 ft., 1866, Carleton E. Watkins. Albumen print, 20 ½ x 15 ½ in. Yale University Art Gallery, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund and Everett V. Meeks, B.A. 1901, Fund

Yosemite, May 1909, 1909, Fred Payne Clatworthy, John Burroughs and John Muir. Gelatin silver print, 8 1/8 x 13 3/16 in. Yale University Art Gallery, Everett V. Meeks, B.A. 1901, Fund

Yosemite: Exploring the Incomparable Valley runs from October 7 – December 31, 2016 at Yale University Art Gallery. To find more details about the show, click here.


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