The largest known painting by American master Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) will be exhibited in Florida this winter through a special loan of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont. The Domes of the Yosemite, which measures nearly 10 by 15 feet, will begin the winter in Miami at ArtCare Conservation, and then goes on exhibit at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida, from Feb. 13, 2018, until returning to the Athenaeum in July 2018.
Charles Hosmer Morse, the industrialist and philanthropist for whom the Morse is named, was a native of St. Johnsbury. The Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation made a significant contribution toward the Athenaeum’s Domes Project, the conservation of the 150-year-old painting.
Bierstadt garnered attention in the 1860s for his grandiose landscape paintings, particularly those that captured the newly accessible American West. He first traveled to the Yosemite Valley in 1863 and completed The Domes of the Yosemite in 1867. As the Athenaeum catalog noted in 1875, “This painting of the Valley of the Yosemite is considered the crowning efforts of Bierstadt’s power... it is impossible to look at on this picture and not be impressed.”
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. The Domes found its way to St. Johnsbury when Horace Fairbanks purchased it at auction in 1872.
The Domes of the Yosemite is unique in many aspects, including its size, age, and historical significance. At nearly 10 by 15 feet, The Domes is the largest work Bierstadt completed, even requiring the construction of special scaffolding to work on the painting. As the painting passes its sesquicentennial, it continues to impress.
The Domes also encapsulates an historical crossroads in American history. In the wake of the Civil War, the late 19th century represented a period of exploration as Americans forged west and continued to redefine the country’s character. Bierstadt’s works, like The Domes, brought images of the country’s grandeur to Americans in the east. A contemporary New York paper noted, “It is worth a week’s travel to see this great picture, and it is with pride that we contemplate the work, and know that these grand hills are in our own country.”