California Pines

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California Pines

United States, 1878
Paintings
Oil on canvas
36 3/16 x 72 3/8 in. (91.80 x 183.83 cm)
Gift of Museum Patrons Association and Mira Hershey Memorial Collection (29.19)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In his search for the grand and scenic, Keith ventured throughout northern California and beyond....
In his search for the grand and scenic, Keith ventured throughout northern California and beyond. Consequently his repertoire of epic imagery was not limited to the stark, perpendicular, granite walls of Yosemite but also included alpine views such as California Pines. The painting is believed to be a view of east central California showing the upper reaches of the Kern River, which flows south from Mount Whitney towards Bakersfield in land that is now part of Sequoia National Park and the Dome Land wilderness. Alpine paintings by artists trained in Düsseldorf served as models for Keith’s panoramic images with snow-capped mountains towering majestically in the background. He presented the California view in a traditional composition with the trees and sloping hills as repoussoir elements and a meandering river leading into the scene. His manner of presenting the hills is reminiscent of the treatment of the Rockies in the work of ALBERT BIERSTADT. While in the possession of the Vose Galleries, this landscape was shown throughout the country and eventually at the Biltmore Salon in Los Angeles, where it was purchased in 1929 for the museum. The painting was the first major acquisition funded by the museum’s patron association.
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About The Era

Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity....
Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity. The frontier moved westward as the forests of the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Alleghenys of the eastern seaboard were cleared and inhabited. Euro-American settlers pushed across the continent, through the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, until they reached the Pacific Ocean. Although the actual travels of explorers, government surveyors, and settlers can be traced through the changing locales in landscape paintings, such depictions were to a certain extent idealizations. In the romantic-realist tradition of the Hudson River school, artists emphasized the primitive character of the wilderness and presented the newly cultivated farmlands as agrarian oases divinely blessed by rainbows and golden mists.
Artists and writers promoted nature as a national treasure. However, the wealth of the land was measured in commercial as well as aesthetic terms. Railroads and axes appear in paintings as symbols of civilization, yet they also were instruments of destruction.
According to some, the nation was preordained by God to span the continent from coast to coast. In 1845 the editor John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” referring to the country’s duty to annex western territories and exploit their resources. The same railroad tycoons and land developers who promoted such a policy also commissioned artists to paint epic scenes of the American landscape. Manifest Destiny ignored the rights of Native Americans, who had inhabited the region long before European settlers arrived. Consequently, it is not surprising that Native Americans are absent from, or stereotyped in, most of the painted views of the land they called their home. The West seen in most nineteenth-century paintings was largely one of the imagination.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Donahue, K.,  I.M. White, C.E. Buckley, A. Hanna,  and L. Curry.  The American West.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1972.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.