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Virgil Williams

Artist's Biography

Virgil Williams was raised in Taunton, Massachusetts and studied art in Paris and Rome from 1853 to 1860.  In 1862 he settled in San Francisco and spent three years here as one of the first professional artists on the West Coast.  In the summer of 1863, he accompanied Albert Bierstadt on his first excursion to Yosemite Valley, and Williams’ exhibition painting depicting Half Dome, dated 1863, recently sold at Bonham’s and Butterfield’s for $172,000.00.  After a second trip to Yosemite in 1865, this time with Thomas Hill, Williams moved back to Massachusetts and thrived as one of the most successful artists in Boston.  In 1871, California lured him back, and he was hired as the first director of the California School of Design that quickly developed into the best art school west of the Mississippi.

Williams’ duties as a teacher limited his production as a painter, and many of his extant works depict Italian peasant subjects executed in the artificial, sentimental style of his academic training. Occasionally, Williams painted scenes of California life in the more natural style of the American school, and today these works are considered to be some of the best paintings done in nineteenth-century California.


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