Ransom Gillet Holdredge (1846-1899)

The details of Ransom Holdredge's life have at times been misreported. He was born in New York City in 1846 (as reported by the U.S. census) and not in 1836 (as reported by some biographers). According to the New York census, he was still living there with his parents in 1860. He came to California, reportedly via the Isthmus of Panama, probably in the early 1860's, and he is listed in the 1864-69 San Francisco City Directory as a draftsman, probably at the Mare Island Naval Yard. In 1868 he and some fellow artists formed the San Francisco Artists' Union as an attempt to protect themselves through unionization. 

Like many artists, Holdredge aspired to paint easel works. Although his first choice was portraits, he settled on landscape paintings. His paintings in the late 1860's are detailed and panoramic, in the Hudson River style. In 1870 he was ambitiously at work on a panorama of California. He also painted a few tropical views showing the Chagres River, part of the Panama crossing. In 1873 he spent the summer sketching along the western part of the transcontinental railroad, and in the summer of 1874 he held an auction of his paintings to raise money to study in Europe.

For approximately two years he traveled on the continent before returning west. He exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association from 1872-98, the Mechanics Institute (1868-86), and the California State Fair (1881-83), showing scenes of landmarks in the Sierra Nevada and the rugged terrain north of San Francisco. After his European experience his work softened, and he began painting pastoral valley views that included signs of human life such as domestic animals or farm buildings. In the 1890's the artist lived in Alameda. Alcohol was his downfall, and although he made considerable money in his lifetime, he died at the Alameda County Infirmary, penniless.

Source: Art at the Jonathan Club, Jonathan Art Foundation

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