[San Francisco. ca. 1865]. Albumen print, approximately 15 1/2 x 21 inches, on original card mount, 16 1/4 x 21 1/2 inches, signed "C E Watkins -" on the mount at lower right. Mild chipping at corners and left edge of the mount, not affecting image; A couple short closed tears just touching the image area, longer horizontal closed tear on right side just into image area. Some light penciled institutional notations on verso of mount. Very good. Matted. Item #WRCAM54824
A striking large-format photograph of Cathedral Rock, one of the most prominent and picturesque landmarks in Yosemite National Park, by one of the most prominent California photographer of the early Yosemite period. Though not identified in print or on a label, the present image is titled "River View, Cathedral Rock, Yosemite" in the example cited by Naef and Hult-Lewis in their monumental book, CARLETON WATKINS: THE COMPLETE MAMMOTH PHOTOGRAPHS. The composition of the photograph is also very similar to Watkins' "Cathedral Rocks and Spires. View from the Merced." published in Watkins' YO-SEMITE VALLEY. PHOTOGRAPHIC VIEWS OF THE FALLS AND VALLEY OF YO-SEMITE IN MARIPOSA COUNTY CALIFORNIA (San Francisco, 1863-66). The present image was shot by Watkins on his first trip to Yosemite in 1861, also the first time he employed a mammoth plate camera. He returned to Yosemite several times, in 1865, 1866, 1872, 1875, 1878, 1879, and 1881. The example cited in Naef and Hult-Lewis's book shows arched-top edges, typically seen with Watkins' mammoth photographs and stereoviews. Interestingly, the present photograph retains the top edges, where shadows of the shutter can still be seen in each corner, evidence of the human at work in creating this stunning image, and likely the reason behind arching the top edges in the first place. The date of the present photograph can be ascertained by close inspection of Watkins' signature at lower right. Again, referring to Naef and Hult-Lewis, the signature on the present photograph most closely resembles known exemplars of Watkins' signature in the mid-1860s, specifically two examples dated between 1863 and 1868. Carleton Watkins was one of the finest 19th- century American landscape photographers. The magnificence of the Yosemite Valley was first discovered by fur trappers in the 1830s, but it remained unknown to a wider audience until Watkins brought his photographic images of its extraordinary beauty to the public. Watkins' vistas of a serene and underpopulated land demonstrated the ideal harmony between man and nature. "The controlled grandeur of his views of the sublime is encoded not only with classical ideals of simplicity, geometry, and measure but also with a perception of the West as the primordial theatre of an authentically American place" - THE WAKING DREAM. "Watkins' Yosemite images were influential both as art and as a source of information. In an effort to define his landscape aesthetic, art scholars have observed that his mammoth photographs made their appearance at about the same time as large landscape painting in California....Most critics agree that it is Watkins' masterful use of light that best distinguishes his Yosemite photographs from those of lesser artists. Patterns of light and dark areas forcefully emphasize the immensity of Yosemite's monolithic structures and give a dynamic quality to his scenes" - Palmquist. THE WAKING DREAM, GILMAN PAPER COMPANY COLLECTION, p.124. Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn, PIONEER PHOTOGRAPHERS OF THE FAR WEST A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY 1840-1865 (Stanford, 2000). Peter E. Palmquist, CARLETON E. WATKINS: PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE AMERICAN WEST (Albuquerque, 1983). Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis, CARLETON WATKINS: THE COMPLETE MAMMOTH PHOTOGRAPHS (Los Angeles, 2011), no.152, pp.543-45.