In honor of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary, the Yale University Art Gallery is showcasing a new exhibition entitled “Yosemite: Exploring the Incomparable Valley.”
The exhibition, which opened last Friday, features pieces from the YUAG’s collection alongside objects and artifacts drawn from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Sterling Memorial Library, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Peabody.
“The exhibition is a focused, institutional view on the study of Yosemite through art and science,” said Mark Mitchell, the YUAG’s Holcombe T. Green curator of American paintings and sculpture. “It has a real slant that echoes Yale’s relationship to the exploration of science and art over time.”
Peabody Director David Skelly said the show effectively unites highlights from the YUAG’s collections and the Peabody’s history as a scientific institution.
The exhibition — Mitchell’s first at Yale after his arrival last August — is anchored in an 1873 painting by German-born American painter Albert Bierstadt: “Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail.” The epic landscape depicted in the painting commemorates the historic legacy of the California national park and, according to Mitchell, conveys its relevance to both artistic endeavor and scientific discovery.
Mitchell said Bierstadt’s masterpiece offers viewers a “fuller perspective” on Yosemite’s remarkable landscape, reflecting how hard Bierstadt and his contemporaries worked to help Eastern audiences understand the marvel that is Yosemite.
Skelly described this painting as “the undisputed star of the show.” The exhibition showcases artwork on loan from the YUAG’s collections supplemented by scientific representations from the Peabody. For example, the California Redbud specimen on view exemplifies the primary weaving material used to make handmade Miwok baskets, which are displayed adjacently, in the Yosemite region.
“The subject of the exhibition, Yosemite, lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach that embraces a range of primary materials, not just art from the YUAG’s collections, but also scientific records from the Peabody and ephemeral, printed material,” said Olivia Armandroff ’17, a student in the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture who assisted Mitchell with curating the project.
A bronze sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is placed at the entrance of the exhibition to honor the president’s formal protection of the Yosemite region in 1864, 26 years before it became a national park.
Armandroff described the stereograph views as a personal exhibition highlight. Visitors are able to peer through viewfinders to experience images projected in three dimensions. She added that the travelers depicted on horseback in Bierstadt’s work are a means for the viewer to enter the painting, a perspective mimicked by the stereograph view.
The exhibition incorporates a unique scientific perspective that reflects Bierstadt’s attention to botanical detail in his art, Mitchell said. Skelly noted that Peabody staff assisted Mitchell in identifying objects to include in the exhibition.
Mitchell said Bierstadt was the first artist to explore the Yosemite Valley and render its grand visions in his work, adding that the incorporation of botanical specimens from the Peabody’s collections introduces viewers to scientific aspects of artwork they may not otherwise ascertain.
“The boundary between art and science is in our minds,” Skelly said. “Many scientists do what they do because of the beauty they see in the world, and many artists are deeply curious about how the world works in ways that are similar to the drive that inhabits most scientists.”
The exhibition is on view through Dec. 31, 2016.