The Domes of the Yosemite, the largest existing painting by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), made its post-conservation debut at the Morse Museum of American Art, in Winter Park, Fla., where it is on view to July 8 through a special loan from the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont.
The monumental painting, having just received conservation treatment in Miami, returns to Vermont in July. Measuring almost 10 feet by 15 feet, the 1867 oil painting has not been shown outside the Athenaeum since its first installation there in 1873.
“The Domes of the Yosemite," said Morse Museum Director Laurence J. Ruggiero, “is a virtuoso performance by one of the most beloved painters of America’s natural beauty—sweeping, sumptuous, dramatic and luminous.”
“The painting perfectly complements the Morse’s collection of 19th-century American art,” he said.
“With age, the canvas had become weak where it wrapped around the stretcher, so much so that there was significant distortion in the upper left corner,” said Athenaeum Director Bob Joly. “Also, the surface was coated with a synthetic varnish in the 1950s, which becomes harder to remove the longer it remains. When it returns, The Domes will be appreciated for its beauty and its great condition.”
Treatment of the work at ArtCare Conservation Studio in Miami, where it arrived in mid-October, has included repairing the tears around the perimeter, flattening the distortions, and removing surface grime and varnish.
“The painting is the most important piece in the Athenaeum’s collection and a major work of 19th-century landscape painting,” Joly said. “It is our job to preserve it for the generations to come.”
Bierstadt, a German-American artist, was lauded for grandiose landscape paintings, particularly those that captured the newly accessible American West. His work represented the maturation of the great American landscape tradition, and his painting of the Valley of the Yosemite in California has been called his crowning achievement.
Originally commissioned for $25,000 for the Connecticut home of American financier Legrand Lockwood, The Domes was showcased in New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston before its installation in Lockwood’s mansion. After Lockwood’s death in 1872, it was purchased by Horace Fairbanks of the E. and T. Fairbanks Company in St. Johnsbury. Fairbanks—whose brother, Franklin, was an early investor in Winter Park land and a charter trustee of Rollins College—founded the Athenaeum in 1871, financed its building, and provided for its library and art collection. In 1873, he added the art gallery to accommodate The Domes. Morse joined the Fairbanks Company in 1850, ultimately becoming the controlling partner in Fairbanks, Morse & Co. headquartered in Chicago.
“Charles Hosmer Morse’s connection to St. Johnsbury is the reason the Athenaeum offered the painting for temporary display at the Morse Museum,” Joly said. “We are delighted to share this national treasure with the Central Florida community, where Morse’s legacy has meant so much.”
The Morse Museum is known today as the home of the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by American designer and artist Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), including the chapel interior he designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and art and architectural objects from Tiffany’s celebrated Long Island home, Laurelton Hall. The museum's holdings also include American art pottery, late 19th- and early 20th-century American painting, graphics, and decorative art.
For more information about the Morse, please visit www.morsemuseum.org.