By accessing the Birmingham Museum of Art’s website and image gallery, you agree to the Museum’s Terms of Use and any additional terms listed below.

Open Content Program

The Birmingham Museum of art makes available digital images of works in the Museum’s collection believed to be in the public domain. Images are available free of charge for any use, commercial or non-commercial. Users do not need to contact the Museum for authorization to use these images. They are available through the Online Collection at artsbma.org/collection. See detailed instructions for specific work types below.

Identifying Open Content Images

The mission of the Birmingham Museum of Art is to spark the creativity, imagination, and liveliness of Birmingham by connecting all its citizens to the experience, meaning, and joy of art. The Museum understands that by sharing images of works online without restrictions, the BMA collection becomes more accessible to a larger audience.

For objects with images the rights status is displayed in the “credit line” section of the object information. The rights status or rights holder will be indicated. If the work is in the public domain and/or the image may be downloaded, the download icon will appear in the bottom right corner of the image area. To search the collection click here.

Works With Restrictions

For copyright-protected images that have been approved by copyright holders, a presentation-sized image is available, but can not be downloaded. A copyright statement clearly listing the name of the copyright holder is visible in the credit line area when the image is displayed. Thumbnail-sized images of copyrighted works are displayed under fair use.

When the owner of a work is impossible to determine or contact, the work is deemed an orphan work. The Museum will make thumbnails of orphan works available. If you are the representative or rights holder of an orphan work, please contact Rights and Reproductions.

Credit/Citations

Please use the following source credit when reproducing an Open Content image: Courtesy Birmingham Museum of Art, followed by the credit line provided in the object description.

Although there are no restrictions or conditions of the use of an Open Content image, the BMA would appreciate a gratis copy of any scholarly publication(s) in which the images are reproduced in order to maintain collection bibliography. Copies may be sent to the attention of:

Open Content Program
Digital Media Department
The Birmingham Museum of Art
2000 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd
Birmingham, AL 35203

Disclaimer

  • If an image is not available under Open Content it may be because the work is still under copyright, the work is not owned by the museum, or the work has not yet been photographed to BMA standards.
  • Request Images: If an image of a work is not available online or is under copyright, you may submit a request through our online request form. You may also request files in additional sizes or formats. A fee will be charged for this service.
  • Our determination of public domain is made in good faith.
  • Electronic records are based on historical information and may not be the Museum’s complete or current knowledge about an object. Research is ongoing.
  • The ‘On View’ status may be delayed on the website by 24 hours. Please check with our Rights and Registration Office to confirm that a work of art will be on view before traveling to the Museum.
  • For additional details and additional terms of use, please see the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Terms of Use Page

Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California

Albert Bierstadt

1865

Measuring more than five by eight feet, Albert Bierstadt’s Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California presents a breathtaking view of one of America’s most scenic spots. Using sketches made during a visit in 1863, Bierstadt paints the valley from a vantage point just above the Merced River, looking due west. A sunset bathes the valley’s rock formations in a warm, golden light, with the prospect framed by El Capitan on the right, and Sentinel Rock on the left; the spires of Cathedral Rocks are visible in the distance.


 


Painted in 1865, the dramatic picture is Bierstadt’s first large-scale Yosemite picture, a subject for which he would become well known. Bierstadt was born in Germany, immigrating to the United States in 1830. In 1853, he returned to his homeland, studying at the Düsseldorf Academy, a school that advocated a clear, linear style, which Bierstadt would incorporate in his own work. Looking Down Yosemite Valley possesses an almost uncanny clarity: from a distance, the painting could easily be mistaken for a photograph, and even up close, one can scarcely detect a single brushstroke. Equally absent is any sign of animal or human life. Since the work was painted at the end of the Civil War, scholars have interpreted this dead calm as a commentary on the national tragedy. Indeed, the painting’s unveiling at the National Academy of Design had to be postponed by two weeks because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.


 


After its debut, the painting was exhibited around the country before being purchased by Uranus H. Crosby in 1866 for the princely sum of $20,000. Crosby was the proprietor of a lavish opera house in Chicago, which had a picture gallery to house his personal art collection. Crosby’s excessive spending habits soon forced him to find a creative means of satisfying his debts. He held a nationwide lottery, offering his opera house as the grand prize, and Bierstadt’s masterpiece as the second prize. The lottery was so successful that Crosby was able to pay off his creditors and buy back the opera house from the winner. Fortunately for Crosby, he retained the winning ticket for Looking Down Yosemite Valley.


 


In 1871, Crosby’s Opera House was completely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, but the painting was rescued before flames engulfed the building. Over the next two decades, it was exhibited periodically in Chicago, but eventually disappeared from view. It resurfaced in 1929, when it was purchased at a Chicago auction for $300 by a Birmingham woman, who anonymously donated it to the Birmingham Public Library. It hung in the reading room of the library until 1974, when it was transferred to the Birmingham Museum of Art on long-term loan. The Library permanently donated the work in 1991. It has become the anchor of the Museum’s American collection and is among the most highly regarded American landscape paintings in the country.