Some remarkably talented artists fail to receive the popular recognition that they should, and painter Gilbert Davis Munger is one such individual. Early in his career, while living and working in San Francisco, California, he was considered a major talent in the area. Later, while working in Europe he received further recognition in the popular press as well as awards from several organizations and was able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle simply by selling his works. Interestingly, he never attained a widespread awareness in the public eye.
Born in Connecticut in 1837, his skills were recognized by his family who allowed him to travel to Washington, D.C. at the age of thirteen to study engraving at the Smithsonian Institute. He worked in this manner for ten years, producing decorative plates for numerous government reports.
During the Civil War years of 1861 to 1864 Munger worked for the Union Army, helping to construct defenses for the city, and after the War he left the area and relocated in New York to begin his life as a professional artist.
He began to maintain two studios during this time, the first in New York and the second, far west in St. Paul, Minnesota where his brothers were living. In 1866 he was successful enough to have several paintings selected for the National Academy of Design exhibition, which garnered him some attention with the public.
During this time his work was primarily dedicated to the landscape, and he was soon invited to participate in Clarence King's Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel, which covered the Utah territories. In 1870 he was again invited on an exploration, this time of Northern California, Oregon and Washington states. He loved the area so much that he returned on his own in 1872, 1873 and 1875.
He established a small studio in San Francisco for these western excursions and was soon an active member of the city's growing art community. The press compared his works to that of the popular Bierstadt and he was exhibited widely.
In 1877 Munger traveled to Europe, where he still painted his beloved scenes of the American west, particularly views of Yosemite. Later he would take excursions into the English and Scottish countryside and would produce a series of popular etching from these travels.
While in Europe he would fall under the influence of the Barbizon school, transitioning from his realistic style to a more dramatic approach to the landscape. It was these paintings that brought Munger the most commercial and popular success of his career.
In 1893 he returned to the United States, and traveled for several years collecting images and scenes to recreate. By 1901 he settled in Washington, D.C. where his health began to fail. He died there in 1903, still hoping to find the same success that other artists of his caliber enjoyed.
His works are in some of the world's major museums, including the Royal Academy of London, the Luxembourg Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Institute.