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American River Painting Artifact Highlight #17

This small oil painting was donated to our collection in 1948 by an anonymous donor.

It is a landscape scene with two bridges on the North Fork of the American River in Auburn: the historic Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, known locally as the “No Hands Bridge”, and the Highway 49 Bridge. It was painted by Harry de Groat around 1920 -1930.

The American River confluence in Auburn has always been a source of inspiration for artists. During the Gold Rush many trained and self-taught painters were among the thousands of fortune-seekers hoping to strike it rich. As many found prospecting too laborious, they turned to painting to make a living.

Portraiture, depictions of mining scenes and landscapes were especially popular. The natural beauty of the California landscape inspired Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Thomas Moran and William Keith, among many others, to portray the ruggedness of the Sierra Nevada, the newly discovered wonders of Yosemite or the motion of the coastline. Their depictions helped the rest of America to see the west and to help preserve its beauty.

Harry de Groat

Harry de Groat was not a classically trained painter. He was born in 1895 in the Netherlands and came to California as a young man. In the 1920s he opened a sign and painting shop on Lincoln Way in Auburn.

Harry de Groat in his shop on Lincoln Way, c. 1931.

He painted many signs that identified local stores, including Klumpp’s Leather Goods, Nash Auto and Sather’s Grill. Yet his real passion was painting California landscapes, which include scenes from the areas around Auburn, Nevada City, Yuba River, Truckee River and even Pismo Beach.

De Groat’s health began to fail and in his late 30s he was admitted to the Weimar Sanatorium

Weimar Joint Sanatorium entrance

He died there in 1934 at the age of 39.

Placer Herald November 10, 1934