Harvey Otis Young

Artist Biography

Harvey Otis Young is primarily known for his paintings of the Rocky Mountains and of Western mining scenes, and his career was characterized by extensive travel throughout both the United States and Europe. Young sought to depict the most picturesque elements of nature, a tendency which points to an influence by the Hudson River School. Although Young’s trajectory took him away from his art more than once in his lifetime, he always returned to painting, and his work is marked by a dedication to perfecting his technique of capturing the beauty of the American landscape.

Born in Lyndon, Vermont on November 23, 1840, Young was the son of Wealthy Anne and Otis Jarvis Young. Young’s father died shortly after he was born, and the young boy and his brother were left in the care of their aunt and grandfather while their mother sought work in Massachusetts. Young’s earliest childhood years were thus spent in rural Lyndon, known for its abundant agriculture and unspoiled pastoral landscape.[1]

In 1859, lured by the promise of wealth in the West, Young left the Northeast to join the California Gold Rush. In 1866, after serving in the Civil War, Young settled in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he opened his first gallery, and went on to help found the San Francisco Artists’ Union.  At the same time that Young’s career was taking off, San Francisco was emerging as a new center of American art and culture, drawing in new exhibitions of prominent European and American artists. Young later wrote to his brother of the importance of perseverance to his early success, remarking that “it is only by working hard and good luck that I am where I am now. I could not of worked so hard and deprived myself of so much for anything else in the world, but I had to do this or sink.”[2]

Young spent nearly a decade in San Francisco before returning to the East, where he opened another gallery, this time in New York. This next phase of Young’s life was marked by extensive travel throughout both the United States and Europe. From 1869 to 1879, Young traveled abroad at least six times to study the works of the European masters and to develop his artistic technique.[3] In 1879, once again drawn to the allure of wealth, Young returned to mining, nevertheless continuing to sketch and study the landscapes he observed on his travels.

Young spent the final two decades of his life in Colorado, where he continued to paint and exhibit his work. In 1901, impressed by one of Young’s paintings, a reviewer wrote that his work “reveals … a great intimacy … with the most evasive and secret moods of the hills.… Never does the artist’s work grow fanciful at the expense of truth for, although he was an idealist and his method was impressionistic, first of all he was an unswerving realist.”[4] Young’s work may be found in prominent institutions such as the Oakland Museum, the Denver Museum of Art, and the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

1. Patricia Trenton, Harvey Otis Young, The Lost Genius 1840–1901 (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 1975), 16–17.
2. Ibid., 17.
3. Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America, Vol. 3, P–Z (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999), 3368.
4. Trenton, 70.

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