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 Charles Dormon Robinson  (1847 - 1933)

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Lived/Active: California/Vermont/Maine      Known for: landscape, marine paintings, illustrations

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Ad Code: 2
Charles Dormon Robinson
from Auction House Records.
The Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A prolific plein-air painter of western landscape, Charles Robinson earned a distinguished reputation as a California artist, much of it based on his panoramic scenes of Yosemite Valley where he summered for twenty-four years.  He also painted in nearby states including Arizona where his subject matter included the Grand Canyon.  In the 1870s, he traveled in South America and painted tropical scenes of pre-Columbian antiquities.

Charles Robinson was born in East Monmouth, Maine, and his father, David Robinson, was a theatre producer for Gold Rush mining towns and constructed the first theatres and plays for stage productions in San Francisco.  In 1850, his family moved to San Francisco where he was educated in the public schools and grew up sketching harbor scenes.  He took lessons at the age of seven from Charles Nahl, a painter of mining genre and landscape, and earned a diploma at age 13 from the Mechanics' Institute for best marine drawing for a juvenile.

From 1861 to 1873, he lived in Vermont because the family was forced out of San Francisco by threats resulting from his father being on the Vigilance Committee.  On the East Coast, he became the pupil of marine artists William Bradford and M.F.H. De Haas as well as Impressionist George Inness.  He was also much influenced by Albert Bierstadt and James Hamilton.

He lived in Clinton, Iowa from 1873 to 1874 to court and marry Kathryn Wright, and then returned to San Francisco.  He first worked as a retoucher of photos, and he and his wife wrote and did illustrations for Overland Monthly and Century magazine.

By 1876, Robinson was exhibiting regularly as a painter, and in 1880 began making trips to Yosemite Valley. He was also in Paris between 1899 and 1901 and offered the Paris Exposition in 1900 a painting of Yosemite that was 50 x 380 feet and weighed five tons. When the committee rejected the panorama, he cut it into pieces, which he sold for passage money home.

In the earthquake and fire of 1906, many of his paintings were destroyed in a warehouse where he had thought they would be safe.  In 1921, a fire in his home destroyed twenty years worth of Yosemite paintings.  He died May 8, 1933 in San Rafael, California.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Katherine Emma Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Though born in East Monmouth, Maine, Charles Dorman Robinson earned the title of "dean of Pacific Coast artists."  He is principally known as a California artist, spending much of his life in the San Francisco area.  He grew up in Vermont and moved to California with his family in 1850, where he showed interest in art at a young age and studied with Charles Nahl in 1858.  From 1861 to 1873, the family relocated to Vermont.  While on the East coast, he received brief instruction from William Bradford, Maurits Frederick Hendrik De Haas, both noted marine painters, as well as F. Regis Gignoux, Albert Bierstadt, Jasper Francis Cropsey, and George Inness, who all informed his own artistic approach.

Robinson lived in Clinton, Iowa, from 1861 to 1873, where he married.  He then returned to San Francisco where he eventually established himself as a painter, principally of landscapes and marine scenes.  He also greatly admired the work of Philadelphia marine painter, James Hamilton, with whom he became acquainted when both were residents of San Francisco between 1874 and 1878; both Hamilton and De Haas influenced his concentration on marine subjects.  Robinson was interested in exotic locales and made trips through Mexico and Central America in the 1860s and 1870s where he painted the pre-Hispanic ruins.

In 1880 Robinson began regularly visiting Yosemite, and produced a considerable body of work devoted to this theme.  He traveled to Paris in 1900 where he briefly worked under Eugene Boudin, but returned to San Francisco the following year.  In the earthquake of 1906, he lost a great deal of his production, and in 1921, a fire in his San Raphael home destroyed many of his Yosemite paintings which had been executed over many decades.

Robinson, whose development was influenced by instruction from Hudson River School artists, had a pronounced interest in light and atmospheric effects, which he ably captured in many of his compositions.  In this battle scene, the painter represented the climax of the battle, picturing mortar and artillery gunfire emanating from the schooner and other ships in the harbor, brilliantly lighting up the sky, and creating a dramatic and convincing recreation of this historic harbor battle. VAL

CRG Archives.
Zellman, Michael David, compiler. 300 Years of American Art. Wellfleet, Massachusetts: Wellfleet Press, 1987.

Biography from South Coast Fine Art:
Charles Dormon Robinson was born in East Monmouth, Maine on July 17, 1847.  The Robinson family moved to Newport, Vermont shortly after the birth of Charles Dormon.  In 1848 his father moved to California followed by mother and child two years later.

Charles loved the ships passing under the Golden Gate and began sketching them at an early age.  His first art training was at age seven in the studio of Charles Nahl.  At age thirteen he was presented with an award from the Mechanics Institute for Best Marine Drawing in the Juvenile Division.

Settling in San Francisco, he worked re-touching photographs and for awhile had his own business in Alameda.  By 1875 Robinson was devoting full-time to painting. In 1880 he visited Yosemite for the first time and subsequently spent 24 summers there.

Charles Dormon Robinson died on May 8, 1933 in San Rafael, California.

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Charles Robinson is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painted in Latin America

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