Exhibitions: American Identities: A New Look

Inventing American Landscape

Gallery view of Inventing American Landscape, American Identities

Gallery view of “Inventing American Landscape,” American Identities

Ranging from well-known Hudson River School subjects and expansive western panoramas to abstracted modernist landscapes and contemporary interpretations of environment, the landscape subjects on view in this gallery demonstrate an enduring, universal preoccupation with humanity’s ties to nature and place. The American landscape movement emerged in the 1820s as artists, writers, and cultural leaders began to employ landscape subjects as symbols of national identity and manifest destiny. Painters of the period celebrated American scenery and landmarks in carefully composed and detailed paintings and prints that were often reproduced on dinnerware and furniture. These objects helped to motivate a booming tourism industry, which posed a conflict between progress and preservation—a tension that still shapes American attitudes to nature today. After the sobering experience of the Civil War, American landscape painters gravitated to more intimate settings and adopted a more evocative and freely brushed style inspired by newly popular French art. The abstract styles introduced into the art of the United States in the early twentieth century were also applied to the portrayal of American landscape. They ultimately led to the highly individualized, contemporary interpretations of natural features and settings that are also on view in this gallery.

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