The Grizzly Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove, California

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The Grizzly Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove, California

United States, circa 1872-1873
Paintings
Oil on paper mounted on board
Canvas: 29 13/16 × 21 5/16 in. (75.72 × 54.13 cm) Frame: 40 1/16 × 32 × 4 1/2 in. (101.76 × 81.28 × 11.43 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by Dr. Robert G. Majer (53.30)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In May 1863 Bierstadt and the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow left New York for the artist’s second trip through the West....
In May 1863 Bierstadt and the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow left New York for the artist’s second trip through the West. Their principal objective was to capture the beauty of Yosemite Valley, which the photographs of Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) had revealed to astonished New Yorkers in 1862. In a drawing room in San Francisco in August, on the eve of their departure for the final leg of their journey there, they again gazed at Watkins’s photographs. Shortly before reaching Yosemite, they and other artist-companions -- Enoch Wood Perry (1831-1915) and Virgil Williams (1830-1886) of San Francisco -- paused near Mariposa to sketch the big trees. Although the museum’s painting was not executed until about ten years later, it should not be surprising that in it Bierstadt borrowed the subject and vantage point of one of Watkins’s early photographs of the Grizzly Giant Sequoia. The size of the museum’s painting indicates that it was not one of the oil sketches Bierstadt made that day. All of his sketches from that trip were fourteen by nineteen inches or smaller. Bierstadt did not employ the twenty-two-by-thirty-inch sheet until 1872, and then only for oil sketches painted in the studio. The museum’s painting probably dates from Bierstadt’s residence in San Francisco (1871-73). It may be visible in a photograph probably taken in 1873 of the artist’s studio, where it hangs on the wall among rows of studio sketches (Hendricks, Bierstadt, CL-6). Bierstadt often painted the big California trees. He exhibited such paintings in 1874 at the National Academy of Design and the Royal Academy. The Grizzly Giant still stands in Mariposa Grove. The huge tree, to the left of center in the painting, was 28 feet wide and 209 feet high. Equally impressive was the giant’s age, estimated at twenty-five hundred years, a span of time going back to the kings of the Old Testament. Bierstadt may have used the museum’s painting as a study for his ten-foot-high California Redwoods, painted in about 1875 (private collection). In that painting he corrected the Grizzly Giant’s leaning, noticeable in the oil study. Intended as a record for the artist’s later use, these studies have a fresh realism often sacrificed to dramatic effect in the finished exhibition paintings.
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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.
  • Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall.  Western Scene.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1975.
  • 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.
  • Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall.  Western Scene.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1975.
  • 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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