Artist CHRIS JORGENSEN and Bert's mother

Hand-coloring images with oil paints used to be quite a hobby before color film was readily available. I've seen many old photos that were colored with oils, but had never seen images like these.

These were given to me by my friend Bert. All belonged to his mother. She is the one who added the coloring. He gave me a small stack of images, some she'd colored, some she'd started, and others still awaiting her artistic hand. Images could be purchased, I'm imagining, specifically for this hobby. There are several different artists represented in the small stack Bert gave me.

Norway_Chris Jorgensen_tatteredandlost

Grand Canyon_tatteredandlost

Christ Jorgensen_1916_tatteredandlost

Yosemite Valley_Chris Jorgensen_tatteredandlost

The artist for all of these images was Chris Jorgensen.

Chris Jorgensen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1860. At the age of ten years he came to America making California his home. He was interested in drawing and painting from earliest childhood and was the first student to enroll in the California School of Fine Arts organized in San Francisco in 1874. From 1881 to 1883 he was assistant director of the school. In his sketch class was Angela Ghirardelli, a young society girl of San Francisco, a gifted pupil and art critic. Jorgensen’s picture, “Along the Wharfs,” had hung on the wall of the school for some time. Angela admired it and appraised it highly. It was exhibited by the Art School in 1882 and immediately sold. Angela felt the loss of the picture so keenly that Jorgensen recovered it from the purchaser and presented it to his pupil. The following year Chris Jorgensen and Angela Ghirardelli were married. There followed more than half a century of rare companionship. Two children, a son and daughter, completed the family circle.

Chris Jorgensen painting Wawona Tunnel Tree

In 1892 Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen went to Italy, the homeland of Angela Ghirardelli, where they spent two years with Italy’s great artists. Shortly after returning Jorgensen built a studio home in Yosemite, for which he drew the plan and did much of the labor of building. The panel over the fire-place—a study of heads —was the work of Mrs. Jorgensen. The artist made all the furniture in this studio home. Mr. Jorgensen says of this home: “The studio proper is a room twenty-four feet square and is always open during the summer for friend or stranger. The big, broad porch of our cottage—ten feet in width—is a main lounging place and it is here that most of the social life goes on.” This studio he used for twenty years. It was here that he began his painting of Yosemite scenes, most of which canvases were sold from the studio. Among these were “Yosemite in the Winter,” “Cathedral Spires,” and “Happy Isles.” Other noted pictures of this period are “Mount Lyell at Sunset,” “Big Trees,” and the entire “Yosemite Valley,” the canvas needed for this painting was so large that it was taken to the point of view on a truck
and here the artist did his work.

Half Dome from Washburn Point Area.
Watercolor by Christian Jorgensen

Chris Jorgensen had a deep feeling for the old missions which he expressed on canvases. When in 1905 he built a studio home at Carmel-by-the-Sea he painted the Carmel Mission for the panel above the fire-place. He also built a bungalow at Pebble Beach. His home on the Piedmont Hills, surrounded by trees and shrubs and winding ways, was an artist’s home built for the family; for artist friends; for the social life of the son and daughter and their friends; it was built to meet the unlimited hospitality which characterized both Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen. It was a rambling house of many rooms in each of which a picture from nature in its changing moods was framed in.

Chris Jorgensen had a studio home in his beloved San Francisco where he was also a member of the Bohemian Club and where his pictures were frequently exhibited. His canvases are many and will live for their portrayal of mountain grandeur; of boisterous waters; of quiet meadows; of by-gone mission days; of fishermen and wharves. One great picture will live in history. This canvas is the expression of the artist’s love and distress for the city that fell in April, 1906. It bears the title “San Francisco in Ruins.”

In Galen Clark’s book, Yosemite Indians, published in 1904, are four drawings by Chris Jorgensen. The cover design and the drawing of a “Chuck'-ah” are by Mrs. Jorgensen. Jorgensen’s portrait of Galen Clark, etched on a slab of red-wood, has, for many years hung in the Yosemite Museum and is much admired.

Chris Jorgensen died at his Piedmont studio after a brief illness on June 25, 1935. Only a few months later, in February, 1936, Mrs. Jorgensen died. The recaptured picture, “Along the Wharves,” was still hanging on the wall of her room, a precious token of girlhood days. The son, Virgil Jorgensen, is the only survivor, the daughter having died some years ago.

By the will of Mrs. Jorgensen many of her husband’s paintings are bequeathed to the United States Government for exhibit at the Yosemite Museum. (SOURCE: Pioneer Yosemite History Center)
If it hadn't been for Bert's mother I might have never known about this artist.

Click here to see paintings by Jorgensen of California Missions.

Click here and here to see Jorgensen's cabin in Yosemite.

And click here to see some illustrations done by Jorgensen for a book entitled Indians of the Yosemite.

UPDATE: For those who live or will be visiting Northern California and are interested in seeing a series of very nice paintings done by Jorgensen of the California Missions, make sure to visit the mission in the town of Sonoma. An entire room filled with beautiful paintings.


  1. I really enjoy your blog and would like to present you with A Lovely Blog Award. Please go to my blog and pick it up: http://ancestorslivehere.blogspot.com/2011/03/another-lovely-blog-award.html

  2. I love anything to do with Yosemite! These paintings are wonderful. And he had a cabin there? Wow! What I wouldn't give to live in that park!

  3. Bart Gripenstraw9/19/2012

    Thanks. I have enjoyed this post. I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s and was a friend of John Skov. John was a Ghirardelli so knew the story of Christian Jorgensen. I have a tree on Ancestry.com and have him included in my tree with some of his other paintings.


    1. Bart, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think Jorgensen's work is beautiful. Sadly I can't see things on Ancestor since I'm not a member.