The Merced River is a 145-mile-long tributary of the San Joaquin River that flows from the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley in California’s central region.
Bierstadt set off on his second voyage to the West on May 12, 1863, accompanied by journalist and explorer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. In August, the two men camped in California’s Yosemite Valley, likely inspired by Carleton E. Watkins’ stereoscopic images of the valley’s stunning beauty taken under various atmospheric circumstances in 1861. Bierstadt painted several huge pieces in his New York studio based on the various studies he made during the trip. Massive, rugged peaks dwarf a group of foreground humans in this painting, which are thought to be members of Yosemite’s Indigenous population, who have lived in the valley for millennia before Bierstadt’s arrival.