Sydney Laurence (1865-1940) Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet 36 5/8 x 54 5/8in overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in (Painted circa 1911-12)
Lot 109
Sydney Laurence
(1865-1940)
Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet 36 5/8 x 54 5/8in overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in
Sold for US$ 75,000 inc. premium

Lot Details
Sydney Laurence (1865-1940) Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet 36 5/8 x 54 5/8in overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in (Painted circa 1911-12) Sydney Laurence (1865-1940) Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet 36 5/8 x 54 5/8in overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in (Painted circa 1911-12) Sydney Laurence (1865-1940) Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet 36 5/8 x 54 5/8in overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in (Painted circa 1911-12)
Sydney Laurence (1865-1940)
Mount McKinley, 63° North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet
signed 'Sydney Laurence' (lower left), titled in the artist's hand on a label (affixed to the frame)
oil on canvas
36 5/8 x 54 5/8in
overall: 44 3/4 x 62 1/2in
Painted circa 1911-12

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private collection, Anchorage, Alaska.

    Literature
    Braarud Fine Art, Michael Walmsley, and Tim Marcher, Sydney Laurence (1865-1940): Anecdotes, Myths, Opinions : A Collection of Laurence Paintings for Sale, La Conner, Braarud Fine Art, 1996, p. 2.

    Sydney Laurence was a native of Brooklyn, New York, and attended Peekskill Military Academy in New York sometime before 1885. He exhibited paintings at the National Academy between 1887 and 1889, and was involved in the founding of the American Fine Arts Society. During this time, he took courses at the Arts Students League and privately from Edward Moran who was living in Manhattan. (Laurence's entry in the Paris Salon of 1890 listed Moran as his former teacher, but there is no evidence that Laurence spent time studying in Paris). Laurence was in the mainstream of a large group of young artists searching for a new way to paint landscapes. Reacting against the theatrical, detailed and dramatic paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and others, Laurence and his colleagues were attracted to the more subdued tonalist style and plein-air naturalism of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and his fellow Barbizon School painters. Laurence and many of his peers were also influenced by the later more 'radical' work of the French Impressionists.

    In 1889 he traveled to England where he spent most of the first year in an artists' colony in St. Ives, Cornwall. From the mid-1890s he took jobs as an artist-war correspondent and traveled to various parts of the globe including to Africa, and China and South Africa (where he lost his hearing in his left ear). For unknown reasons he traveled to Alaska around 1903, and from 1904 into 1908, was in Tyonek on the north shore of Cook Inlet. He initially tried his hand at mining while continuing to paint. While there he is known to have painted a canvas called Cordova between 1908 and 1909, a 4 x 16 foot panorama scene, which is currently in the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. A Christmas postcard from his wife and children in 1904, addressed to him in Tyonek, Alaska, is the last known contact between the artist and his first family.

    Financially supported by friends, Laurence set up camp in the vicinity of Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley until 2015. Painting scenes of the awe-inspiring Denali ("The High One") from the hills above the rapids of the Tokositna River became his trademark. It is this image more than any other which personifies Laurence for his many admirers and collectors in Alaska and beyond. The unique qualities of the Alaskan light and the immense scale of the wilderness and mountains fascinated him. He painted many different views of Denali, beginning in 1911. The present work is thought to be amongst the earliest and largest known depictions of Denali painted by the Laurence. It was reproduced as a chromolithograph by The Knapp Company, a division of American Lithographic Co., for a 1913 calendar, which is believed to predate two well-known early works in the Anchorage Museum, Mount McKinley and The Top of the Continent, both painted in 1913.

    Len Braarud was a consummate collector and scholar of Alaskan painters and had a keen interest in Sydney Laurence paintings. In his book, Sydney Laurence 1865-1940: Anecdotes, Myths, Opinions, Braarud discusses this particular painting. "Any viewer of Mt. McKinley will likely be confused by [Sydney Laurence's] unfamiliar depiction in this composition. The basic indications of McKinley and its surrounding peaks are present but their shapes do not match any contemporary face of the mountain. Further the middle third of the painting features mountains whose flat or rounded tops are more suggestive of those found in the lower 48. In conversations with Mr. Kesler E. Woodward, [author of Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North], about the unusual mountain profile, he said, 'My guess is that since this was perhaps his earliest large painting of the mountain, he simply hadn't made adequate sketches or photographs to get the shape right, and he took great liberties with the topography, never realizing at the time that the shape of the mountain from the viewpoint in the Dutch Hills area near Talkeetna would become iconic for him and for Alaskans.' Further he said, "It's the same quality painting as the giant Alaska Airlines painting [donated to the Anchorage Museum by Alaska Airlines] of the mountain at the museum, or the 1919 image at the University of Alaska Museum. It's just...made-up, or borrowed from elsewhere topography, reflective of Denali in the large, domed central peak, but not conforming to the actual shape." In light of the arduous journey the artist must have made just to stand on the vantage point of the painting, it's no wonder that his preparatory drawings might be proportionally off.

    Laurence's success coincided with the near universal fascination in mountain climbing and man's desire to stand atop the world's highest peaks. First attempted in 1910 by an expedition team that included Canadian artist Belmore Browne, Denali was finally conquered by Hudson Stuck and his support team in June of 1913. The allure of such majestic peaks as Denali continues to this day, but during Laurence's lifetime, his images of such an exotic locale must have been especially breathtaking to those fortunate to see them. It is no wonder that Laurence came to be the preeminent Alaskan painter of "The Last Frontier."
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