I am a trail painter. That means I paint on the trail across the mountains of the West, I don’t paint the trail itself. There is a fundamental difference between what I do, and what these guys do, er, did. I capture the emotional, expressionist bend of the light through the trees and across the river, incorporating symbols and techniques outside the traditional world of landscape painting. Go to instagram and search #trailpaintings to check it out. That all being said, I went to the De Young museum in San Francisco yesterday and remembered who my favorite painters of all time, are. Consider:

002Thomas Hill, Mount Tallac from Lake Tahoe, 1880

Hill’s paintings often started out as oil sketches. Just after the Gold Rush, Hill was essential to shaping public perceptions of California in an era when the state remained otherwise inaccessible to most Americans. This view of Tallac is near the salmon run at Taylor Creek.

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Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon with Rainbow, 1912

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Albert Bierstadt, California Spring, 1875

Perhaps the most famous trail painter of the West, Bierstadt’s simple California Spring brings a wave of emotion, sings the pure emotional note of what it feels like here among the oaks in Early February when the hills sprout green.

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Chiura Obata, Lake Basin in the High Sierra, 1930

A Japanese-American artist, the “roughneck”, Obata went to the United States in 1903, at age 17. After initially working as an illustrator and commercial decorator, he had a successful career as a painter, following a 1927 summer spent in the Sierra Nevadaand was a faculty member in the Art Department at UCB, from 1932 to 1953, interrupted by World War II, when he spent over a year in internment camps. Look up his Yosemite series, it will change you.

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The first of three trail paintings not from the West. Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866

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Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867

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John Constable, The Vale of Deadham, 1827