5 Landscape & the New Frontier
by Patricia Krupinski
Landscape painting surged in importance during the 17th and 18th century. The European artists captured the “awe of nature” on canvases and the 19th century American painters followed their approach.
Landscapes portrayed the power of nature, whether through depictions of storms and weather or through hills, mountains, or forests. They became a way for artists to show off their skills in portraying light and dark and to contrast the increasingly urban world compared to the open space of the past.
American landscape painting took off as a genre after the War of 1812. The paintings focused on showcasing America’s vast land, and the potential opportunities for society, as well as its unique natural resources.
By the 1850s, some New England artists began focusing more on elegiac seascapes and the power of the ocean. However, many artists traveled abroad for art training, encountering the French Barbizon landscape tradition of Jean Francois Millet. Rejecting the highly polished classical realism so prevalent in Paris urban academic studios, Barbizon painters made the forests their studios. Surrounded by nature, a vigorous, bucolic and spiritual rendering of the land emerged in landscape painting.
Within the Providence School, George W. Whitaker (1840 – 1916) deftly painted landscapes using rich earth tones emphasizing the intimate, quiet and genuine appreciation the artist had for the natural world.
Landscape paintings provide critical insight into American identity, showing viewers what it meant to be American: to have the world, opportunity, and abundance in front of you.
Howat, John K. "The Hudson River School." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 30, no. 5 (June–July, 1972).
Amory, Dita. "The Barbizon School: French Painters of Nature". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bfpn/hd_bfpn.htm (March 2007)