THOMAS HILL 1829-1908
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite, c. 1870-84

Oil on canvas, 72 X 95" (182.88 x 241.30 cm.)

Signed, lower left

Museum purchase, 969-0-109

The name of the painter Thomas Hill has long been linked with that of Yosemite Valley, California, his most frequent subject. When the artist was seventy, an art critic called him "The most ardent devotee at the shrine of Yosemite and the most faithful priest of the valley. His enormous Yosemite panoramas were purchased by many of the social and business leaders of San Francisco, and one of his landscapes won a bronze medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Born in England, Hill moved to Massachusetts with his family in 1844. He lived in Boston, Philadelphia, and Cambridge before moving to San Francisco in 1861. Hill first visited Yosemite Valley in 1862, a fact recently confirmed by the diary of a nineteenth-century touriSt. Following a visit to Europe in 1867 and a stay in Boston from 1868 to 1872, Hill made the San Francisco bay area his home, actively participating in the early artistic circles of the city and traveling frequently to Yosemite. In 1883, he established his first summer studio at Yosemite, and in 1886 he moved to Wawona, fifteen miles southwest of the valley, where he maintained a studio and residence the rest of his life.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite depicts the Yosemite valley as seen from its western entrance. On the left is El Capitan, and on the right is Bridal Veil Falls. The formations named Sentinel Rock and Half Dome are faintly visible in the right background, as are the distant peaks of the High Sierra. This view of Yosemite is one Hill painted frequently, both in horizontal and vertical formats. The Native American encampment and the woman carrying a papoose in the foreground are elements he frequently included in his Yosemite landscapes to provide a focal point and a note of human interest. In romantic terms, the Native Americans add an element symbolic of wilderness, a suggestion of the way the valley looked before Anglo-Americans discovered it in 1851 and drove out the Southern Sierra Miwoks, the native inhabitants of the region.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite is probably from the 1870s, when Hill painted several of his largest Yosemite panoramas for wealthy Californians. The painting's thick, impasto handling also relates it stylistically to other works of this period. An art critic of 1870 noted Hill's change from his earlier, sketchier style to the heavier technique seen here. "Thomas Hill," he wrote, "has ignored that free sketchy style in which he was so felicitous, and adopted the dry impasto mode of the French school. In the latter he is as yet a probationer; but time may ripen him into a master." It is unlikely that Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite was painted between 1884 and 1887, as it does not seem to be listed in the artist's business notebook from that period, and after 1890, Hill's style became freer and even less detailed than it appears here.
Hill's business notebook from 1884-1887 explains a great deal about his working methods. Standard subjects are listed with titles like "Morning in Yosemite Valley," and "General View from Bridal Veil Meadow." The last is a reference to the type of view shown here. Clients even requested specific seasons and times of day, and Hill duly noted their preferences: "early morning," "mid-day spring time," and "sunset with lndians." According to the notebook, Hill's clientele came from around the world, although most hailed from San Francisco, the eastern and Midwestern United States, and England. Hill's most notable British clients and visitors included the Earl of Durham, the Honorable Evan Charteris, and Lord Henry Paulet. Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite, which found its way back to America from a collection in England, was very likely purchased by British tourists visiting California.5 Hill continued to paint Yosemite for the rest of his career, working in his studio at Wawona and spending the cold Sierra winters in nearby Raymond, California.