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Charles Dormon Robinson Biography

In 1848 Robinson’s father migrated to California, followed by mother and child two years later.  The young boy loved the ships passing through the Golden Gate and began to sketch them at an early age.  His first art training was at age seven in the studio of Charles Christian Nahl.  At age 13 he was presented with a diploma from the Mechanics’ Institute for best marine drawing in the juvenile department.  In 1861 he and his mother returned to the East where he studied with artists William Bradford and George Inness.  He also studied briefly with F. R. Gignoux, Jasper Cropsey, and received criticism from Albert Bierstadt and James Hamilton.  Yearning for California, he started west but stopped in Clinton, OH where he married Kathryn Evelyn Wright in 1874.  Settling in San Francisco, he worked retouching photographs and for awhile had his own business in Alameda.  Both he and his wife wrote and illustrated for Century and Overland Monthly publications.  By 1875 Robinson was devoting full time to painting.  He had his first showing at the San Francisco Art Association in 1876, and recognition as a first-rate marine painter came in 1878 at the Sacramento State Fair where he won all prizes and sold one of his paintings to Governor Booth.  In 1880 he visited Yosemite for the first time and then spent 24 summers there.  One painting, sold there to a British noble, was given to Queen Victoria and hung in Buckingham Palace, and the King of Siam bought one of his oils while visiting San Francisco.  He further studied with Boudin and Segantini in Paris during 1899-1901.  At the time of the 1906 earthquake, he and his family were living in San Francisco at 1633 Laguna Street.  He had moved most of his paintings to a warehouse for safe keeping, but the building burned and with it went many of his earlier works.  Once again fire destroyed their home in 1921 taking with it 20 years of his Yosemite paintings.  A prolific plein-air painter, Robinson followed in the tradition of the Hudson River School.