Thomas Hill was among the first painters to arrive in California with the express purpose of depicting the majesty and beauty of the California landscape. Beginning in the early 1860s, Hill executed canvases that evoked the pristine qualities of the great western expanse. It was not until the l880s that the painter focused his efforts on Yosemite, when, in 1883, Hill built a studio in Yosemite Valley. Although this studio was demolished in a windstorm the following year, he would often return to paint in the region. Professor William H. Gerdts writes, "More than almost any other of the scores of artists who visited and painted Yosemite, Hill is associated with the great valley, its magnificent cliffs, towering redwoods, and many famous waterfalls. Ruskinian in spirit but vigorous in technique, his style became increasingly sketchy, a painterly approach associated with Barbizon formal strategies. To some degree this is true, but his finest pictures, particularly his vast early masterworks. . . are unique in the grandeur they convey. No other artist captures the spectacular vistas of the region while so accurately portraying its natural history." (Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, New York, 1990, vol. III, p. 234)
Painted in 1888, Gates of Yosemite exemplifies the artist's approach to painting the Western landscape: the large canvas is filled with atmosphere that evokes the splendor of the mountains and the expanse of the great Western landscape. Snow-covered peaks emerge in the far distance, while full, heavy clouds move across the open sky. Monumental cliffs tower over the bottom of the valley, which is filled with lush evergreens. In the foreground, a pair of woodsmen--one with rifle in hand--stand at attention by their camp and look into the dense wilderness surrounding them. The overall effect is one of inspiring majesty and the limitless quality of the American landscape.