Wednesday Aug 03, 2005

Yosemite Valley's First Art Exhibit

Indian Life at Mirror Lake, 1878. Watercolor by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming
Indian Life at Mirror Lake, 1878.
Watercolor by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming (29.5'x19.25').
[Click to enlarge and for more images]

The first art exhibit in Yosemite Valley was held in 1878 by Lady Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming, a travel writer from a wealthy Scottish family. Lady Gordon-Cumming taught herself how to paint, and had help from prominent artists visiting her home. She traveled the world, mostly the Pacific and Asia, and often alone. Lady Gordon-Cumming was a prolific writer, and painted over a thousand watercolors of landscapes. She visited Yosemite in 1878, after arriving in San Francisco from a trip to Tahiti. She intended to visit for three days, but ended up staying three months. She says “I for one have wandered far enough over the wide world to know a unique glory when I am blessed by the sight of one . . .”

Of her art exhibit, Lady Gordon-Cumming says:

I have myself held rather an amusing Great Exhibition this afternoon. Latterly I have repeatedly been asked to “do portfolio” for the edification of various friends; but the people who took the keenest interest in all the sketches were just those who had not seen them, so I had promised them all to have a grand show before I leave the valley. That sad day, alas! is drawing near; so, having issued a general invitation to every man, woman, and child in the neighbourhood, I borrowed a lot of sheets from my landlady, who allowed me to nail them all round the outside of the wooden house. To these I fastened each sketch with small pins, so that the verandah became a famous picture gallery.

I certainly have got through a good deal of work in the last three months, having twenty-five finished drawings, and as many more very carefully drawn and half coloured. Most of these are large, for water-colour sketches—about thirty by twenty inches—as I find it far more troublesome to express such vast subjects on a smaller scale.

I was amused by the zeal with which one of the guides constituted himself showman, and went round and round the verandah descanting on every drawing. Hitherto he has always been so busy with tourists, that I had not previously discovered this kindred spirit. He did his work thoroughly; for when I returned from my walk, I found him still hard at it! I was much gratified by the enthusiasm of the Yō-semité-ites, as they recognised all their favourite points of view, and vouched for the rigid accuracy of each,—that being the one quality for which I have striven, feeling sorely aggrieved by the unscrupulous manner in which some celebrated artists have sacrificed faithfulness of outline to make grand Nature fit their ideal.

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Monday Sep 13, 2004

Yosemite Valley website

Here's some information that's available on Yosemite Valley and surroundings on my webpage:
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