Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

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Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

United States, 1864
Paintings
Oil on canvas
36 3/16 x 56 3/8 in. (91.9 x 143.2 cm)
William Randolph Hearst Collection (53.6)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Thomas Hill is so firmly identified with views of Yosemite that this painting was long thought to depict a lake in Yosemite even though no lake of this size is to be found there....
Thomas Hill is so firmly identified with views of Yosemite that this painting was long thought to depict a lake in Yosemite even though no lake of this size is to be found there. The liberties that Hill took with topography make it difficult to identify conclusively the sites of a number of his paintings, but the distinctive double-peaked hill at the left, known as Maggies Peaks, mark this painting as a view of Lake Tahoe, and the waterfall suggests Emerald Bay. The Daily Alta California of June 19, 1864, in the year the museum’s landscape was painted, mentioned that Hill exhibited a view of Emerald Bay of about the same size and also showing Maggies Peaks and the same sunset effect: ‘A beautiful bit of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe by T. Hill, was placed in the window of Jones, Woll [sic] and Sutherland. It is about 3’ x 4’, a sunset; the twin buttes (Maggies Peaks, at left) and snowy mountains in the distance are lit by the red rays of evening. The light and shade are forcible . . . ." By the mid-1860s, tourists, such as those depicted in this painting, were visiting Emerald Bay. The museum’s painting apparently is the earliest dated California landscape by Hill. The artist is so much identified with California views it is easy to forget that he came west as an accomplished landscape painter who had sketched in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), and GEORGE INNESS, among others identified with the Hudson River school. Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe is very much in the idiom of those artists.
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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.
  • Wolfe, Ann M. Tahoe: a Visual History. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • About the Era.
  • Wolfe, Ann M. Tahoe: a Visual History. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
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