In the Dutchess County Spotlight
Vassar: "Taming Nature" Exhibit
Nature in America: Taming the Landscape
This summer, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center presents an opportunity to view changing depictions of the American landscape as rendered by artists of the Hudson River School through modernists of the 20th century. Of the many rarely or never shown paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints in Nature in America: Taming the Landscape, 42 of the 44 works are drawn from the Art Center's permanent collection. Patricia Phagan, the Art Center's Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings, curates the exhibition, which is on view from now through August 26, 2012.
Nature in America includes works by Thomas Cole, George Inness, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Andrew Dasburg, and Ernest Fiene, as well as painters Aaron Draper Shattuck, Milton Avery, and Oscar Bluemner, photographers Frank Jay Haynes, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams, and many others. The exhibition explores three major phases in thought toward and representation of landscape through the two world wars.
Gallery One: The Young Nation and Expansion: Domesticating the Wild
The first gallery of the exhibition will offer an opportunity to see how some of the artists of the Hudson River School as well as early Western photographers viewed America, which was at that time largely wilderness. Phagan noted that "young landscape artists tended to see a wild land with sublime vistas, immense topographical features, and intense expressions of moods."
Painter Thomas Cole in his "Essay on American Scenery" in 1835 noted that the most prominent feature of the country's Eden-like land was this predominant wildness, almost primeval in relation to Europe's centuries-old cultivated landscape, but disappearing fast to the ax. He pointed out those parts of nature that especially fascinated-such as the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls-and did so with emotional, spiritual words that connects with his fervent oils.
Like the artists of the English landscape tradition who came before them, these American painters were swept up in the search not only for the picturesque but for the dramatic, awe-inspiring sublime in nature, aesthetic theories formed in England decades before and popularized through newspapers, books, and trips abroad. American photographers applied the search for the sublime as well. In the frontier west, they echoed this aesthetic when they documented magnificent mountain chains stitched with new railroad tracks or recorded the astonishing terrain of Yellowstone National Park.
In addition to Cole, the artists represented in this section will include Thomas Doughty, William Hart, Frank Jay Haynes, William Henry Jackson, Jervis McEntee, Charles Herbert Moore, Alexander Robertson, Andrew Joseph Russell, Aaron Draper Shattuck, James Smillie, William T. Russell Smith, Seneca Ray Stoddard, and Carleton E. Watkins.
Gallery Two: After the Civil War: Softening the Face of Nature
In the second gallery, Phagan highlights landscape artists who began to look at nature differently, with the "lofty poetry that characterized so many paintings of the Hudson River School gradually softening and becoming more personal."
Around the time of the Civil War and for decades afterwards, many painters, printmakers, and photographers in the United States preferred creating up-close, private moments in a civilized nature that they made atmospheric and intimate, with growing emphasis on strong passages and veils of color. For instance, Phagan noted that when George Inness came back from Europe in the 1850s, he began to favor the calm, informal landscape style of Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, artists of the Barbizon School whose pigment-laden canvases appeared airy and brilliant with light. His quiet landscapes in turn influenced several American artists, and paved the way for the Tonalist movement of poetic landscape oils, watercolors, prints, and photographs ultimately inspired by the fog-shrouded, tinted views of London by American expatriate James McNeill Whistler.
At the same time, American artists working abroad in Munich, Brittany, and elsewhere embraced the immediacy of painting outdoor scenes (en plein air) and brought this way of working back to America. All of this experimentation led many American painters in the 1880s and afterwards to embrace the luminous and color-saturated approaches of the French Impressionists.
In addition to Inness, artists represented include Milton Avery, Ralph A. Blakelock, Henry Farrer, Daniel Garber, William Morris Hunt, John Francis Murphy, Harry Coswell Rubincam, James David Smillie, Edward Steichen, Abbott H. Thayer, Dwight William Tryon, John Henry Twachtman, and Henry Wolf.
Gallery Three: The Progressive Era through the World Wars: Breaking Nature Apart
The final shift represented in this exhibition occurred in early-20th-century America during a period of reformist politics and new ideas in the arts. American artists were inspired by the art of Matisse, Picasso, and other European modernists, and began to fragment nature, singling out its curves, planes, masses of colors, rhythmic lines, and fecund energy. Phagan noted painters such as Arthur Dove and John Marin, in the circle around gallerist and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, made vital modern landscapes inspired by the local scene.
The Woodstock Art Colony-its artists ferrying back and forth from New York-rendered the valleys and lanes around this upstate New York area with lilting shapes and patterns as seen in the work of Andrew Dasburg and Ernest Fiene. During the first half of the 20th century, American artists of all allegiances began making stronger use of patterns, planes, colors, and rhythmic lines in their views of the land.
In addition to Dasburg, Dove, Fiene, and Marin, artists included in this section include Ansel Adams, Oscar Bluemner, Andreas Feininger, Rosella Hartman, Fairfield Porter, Grant Wood, and William Zorach.
Nature in America is sponsored by the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The Art Center is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10am-5pm; late on Thursday, 10am-9pm; and on Sunday, 1-5pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Sites/ homes, and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For information, call (845) 437-5632 or visit http://fllac.vassar.edu