Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1866. Albert Bierstadt. Oil on canvas. Gift of the sons of William Paton, 1909.
On May 12, 1863, in the company of the journalist and explorer Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Bierstadt departed on his second trip to the West. The two men camped in California’s Yosemite Valley in August, probably inspired in their choice of destination by the stereoscopic photographs of Carleton E. Watkins, who had recorded the valley’s magnificent scenery under various atmospheric conditions. From the many studies Bierstadt made during the trip, he painted several large works back in New York. In this canvas, as in many by him, monumental, jagged peaks dwarf the figures seen in the flat, carefully detailed foreground.