The Domes of the Yosemite, the largest existing painting by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), is currently on view at the Morse Museum through a special loan from the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont. 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.
In his February 28 lecture, Bob Joly, the director of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont, will talk about Bierstadt’s work in the American West and how The Domes came to reside in Vermont. Joly holds a master’s degree in library science and book conservation from the University of Iowa and has been with the Athenaeum since 2004 and director since December 2013.
“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.”
The 1867 oil-on-canvas, almost 10 feet by 15 feet, has not been shown outside the Athenaeum since its first installation there in 1873. Having just received conservation treatment in Miami, the painting will be on view through July 8 before returning to Vermont. Charles Hosmer Morse, the industrialist and philanthropist for whom the Morse is named, is a native of St. Johnsbury. The Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation—which has provided significant grants to Morse’s school, the St. Johnsbury Academy—gave $100,000 toward the Athenaeum’s Domes Project, which includes the painting’s conservation as well as the installation of an HVAC system in the Athenaeum, structural repair to a gallery viewing balcony, and the conservation of frames in the collection.
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.