Thomas P. Otter

Painting in Inventory

Thomas P. Otter (1832-1890) started his artistic career in Philadelphia as an engraver, but soon became an exhibiting artist, studying with James Hamilton, with whom he shared a studio in 1859. During the 1850s and early 1860s, he frequently exhibited landscapes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, including his most famous work On the Road, (Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City) that contrasts an old-fashioned Conestoga Wagon with a sleek railroad train in a broad American wilderness setting. In the twentieth century, this work has been frequently included in exhibitions devoted to the nineteenth-century American experience. After the Civil War, Otter moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he devoted most of his time to teaching. Why, then, would he have painted Yosemite in 1877? At this point, we can’t give a definite answer to this question, but a circumstance suggests a possible reason. In 1875, James Hamilton moved to San Francisco, and in the following year, Hamilton visited Yosemite, even though he was known as a marine painter. Did his former student and close friend, Thomas Otter, visit San Francisco and accompany him to Yosemite, painting our work upon his return the following year? In any case, Hamilton’s Yosemite experience may have inspired Otter to paint Sentinel Rock in his Doylestown studio. Otter’s extant paintings are extremely rare, and this is a fine example.