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Looking Down Yosemite Valley
excerpted from the exhibition catalog titled
"Looking Down Yosemite Valley: Paintings by Albert Bierstadt"
by Susan Sipple Elliott
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California ;1865. Oil on canvas
64 1/4 x 96 1/2 inches; Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Alabama; Gift of the Birmingham Public Library.
Click here for larger image
It was Bierstadt's 1863 overland journey that inspired Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, of 1865. A 1991 gift to the Museum from the Birmingham Public Library, Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, is a masterpiece in the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. This painting was Bierstadt's main contribution to the National Academy of Design's 1865 Annual Exhibition in New York. According to several contemporary accounts, it was hung in "the position of honor." Bierstadt toured the painting in 1866, and it traveled to at least four different locations. It was exhibited in Philadelphia in May, in Milwaukee at Hampsted's Music Room in July, in Cincinnati in October, and then again in Philadelphia in December, when it was purchased by Uranus H. Crosby of Chicago for $20,000.
Uranus H. Crosby earned his fortune as a distiller and built the most elaborate opera house west of the Atlantic coast in 1865. Crosby faced financial ruin when he went severely over budget with the construction of his Chicago Opera House. In an effort to improve his financial situation, Crosby was convinced by his friends to hold a lottery that would award the Chicago Opera House itself as the first prize. An advertisement in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 22, 1866, stated that Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, valued at $20,000, would be offered as the second prize in Crosby's Opera House lottery. Many tickets were sold; however, the unsold tickets remained in Crosby's possession.
The lottery was held on January 21, 1867, and generated sufficient funds for Crosby to regain the Opera House from the owner of the winning ticket. Fortuitously for Crosby, he retained the ticket for Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California. At some point after the lottery, Uranus either sold or gave his building and art collection to his cousin, Albert Crosby. Albert continued to employ James F. Aitken, a former New York art dealer, as the curator of the Crosby collection.
Crosby continued to exhibit his collection of paintings at the Opera House until the great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871. The Opera House was destroyed in the fire, but fifty-one paintings in Crosby's collection, including Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, were dramatically rescued. When the fire spread toward the city center, James F. Aitken rented a wagon and sped to retrieve the paintings from the burning Opera House. Aitken was forced to leave behind more than one hundred paintings in the Crosby collection, and he barely escaped from the flames himself.
On October 18, 1871, the Boston Transcript announced that the saved paintings from Crosby's Opera House would be exhibited in Boston, including this masterpiece, which had never before been seen there. The painting may have continued to travel to other cities as well to raise money for fire relief for the city of Chicago. The painting returned to Chicago in late 1871 or 1872. Albert Crosby loaned his complete painting collection to the newly opened Chicago Fine Art Institute in May, 1873, and it was publicly exhibited there until the Institute closed in 1875. Crosby twice loaned Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, to the Chicago Art Institute, first in 1885 and again in 1887. The whereabouts of Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California for the next forty years are still a mystery.
In October 1929, the painting came up at auction in Chicago and was sold for $300. Later in that same year, the owner and her husband were transferred from Chicago to Birmingham by his employer, Tennessee Coal and Iron. The new owner generously gave the painting to the Birmingham Public Library with the stipulation that it be insured for $15,000. For forty-five years Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, graced the Literature Department of the library. Beloved by library patrons and the Birmingham public, the painting was unknown to scholars of Albert Bierstadt and nineteenth-century American landscape painting.
In 1974, Edward Weeks, then curator of painting and sculpture at the Birmingham Museum of Art, discovered the painting and suggested it be cleaned by a conservator. After treatment, which revealed the luminosity of the canvas as well as Bierstadt's signature and the date, Library Director Richardina Ramsay indefinitely loaned the painting to the Birmingham Museum of Art where it could be given the proper humidity, security, and appreciation in the context of other great American paintings. The Birmingham Public Library under Director George Stewart most generously made the painting a permanent gift to the Museum in the fall of 1991. The massive walnut frame surrounding the painting is believed to be the original and weighs in excess of five hundred pounds.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is located at 2000 Eighth Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama, 35203. Please see the Museum's website for hours and admission fees.
Google Book Searches conducted in 2008 and 2013 by Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) located the following brochures, catalogues and gallery guides published on paper in connection with the Museum and with a topic of American representational art. The list may not include all relevant publications. Titles are listed by date of publication, with most recent listed first. Information on publications may be in error or incomplete. Titles may be followed by links to related essays published by Resource Library. See Definitions for more information on finding brochures, catalogues and gallery guides using TFAO's website.
Looking Down Yosemite Valley: Paintings by Albert Bierstadt: [exhibition Held] April 11-July 6, 1997, Birmingham Museum of Art, By Albert Bierstadt, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.). Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1997. 11 pages Looking Down Yosemite Valley, excerpted from the exhibition catalog titled "Looking Down Yosemite Valley: Paintings by Albert Bierstadt"; text by Susan Sipple Elliott (5/98)
Pictured in My Mind: Contemporary American Self-taught Art from the Collection of Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen, By Gail Andrews Trechsel, Roger Cardinal, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.). Contributor Gail Andrews Trechsel, William Ferris. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1996. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Nov 8, 2007. ISBN 0878058788, 9780878058785. 247 pages
Made in Alabama: A State Legacy, By E. Bryding Adams, Leah Rawls Atkins. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1995. ISBN 0931394406, 9780931394409. 392 pages
Images of America: The Painter's Eye, 1833-1925, By Frederick Baekeland, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.), Published by Birmingham Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1991. ISBN 0931394317, 9780931394317. 160 pages
The Expressionist Landscape: North American Modernist Painting, 1920-1947 / Organized by Ruth Stevens Appelhof, with the Assistance of Cumbee Wilson ; with Essays by Ruth Stevens Appelhof, Barbara Haskell, Jeffrey R. Hayes, By Appelhof, Ruth Ann, Birmingham Museum of Art, Haskell, Barbara, Hayes, Jeffrey Russell, 1946-, Wilson, Cumbee. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1988,
Well May They be Made: Navajo Textiles from the Coleman Cooper Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, with Selections from the Denver Art Museum and Private Collections, By Ellen F. Elsas, Ann Lane Hedlund, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Denver Art Museum. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1987. 48 pages
Art of the American West, By Richard N. Murray, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.). Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1983. ISBN 0931394104, 9780931394102. 74 pages
Black Belt to Hill Country: Alabama Quilts from the Robert and Helen Cargo Collection ; Birmingham Museum of Art, Dec. 13, 1981-Jan. 24, 1982; Montgomery Museum of Art, Sept. 16-Nov. 14, 1982, By Robert Cargo, Birmingham, Ala. Museum of Art, Montgomery Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.), Helen Cargo, Ala Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Robert and Helen Cargo, Montgomery Museum of Art, Montgomery, Ala. Museum of Fine Arts. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art?, 1982. 92 pages
Romare Bearden: Jazz., By Hunter Museum of Art, La Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, Memphis State University, Gallery, Ala Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1982. Program for exhibition of Bearden's paintings held at: Birmingham Museum of Art, Feb. 14-Mar. 28, 1982; Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, La., May 8-June 6, 1982; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tenn., June 20-August 1, 1982; University Gallery, Memphis State University, Aug. 8-Sept. 27, 1982.
Alex Katz: May 14-June 21, 1981, By Alex Katz, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Ala.). Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1981. 8 pages
The Art of Healing: Medicine and Science in American Art, By William H. Gerdts, Birmingham Museum of Art. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1981. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Nov 12, 2007. 119 pages
American Watercolors, 1850-1972, By Birmingham Museum of Art, Mobile Art Gallery, Mobile Art Gallery, Alabama Watercolor Society, Edward F. Weeks, Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1972. 72 pages
Milton Avery, 1893-1965: Oct. 27-Nov. 24, 1968., By Milton Avery, Ala Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham. Published by Birmingham Museum of Art, 1968. 12 pages
Book information courtesy of Google Books.
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