Our country abounds with scenery new to the artist’s pencil, of a varied character, whether beautiful or grand … Here, then, is a field for the artist almost without limits.
William Cullen Bryant, 1872
Drawn both from the LIM’s own permanent collection and from notable private and museum collections, this exhibition focuses on the enduring landscape tradition in American art. From 19th century painters and photographers that include Frederic Edwin Church, William Sidney Mount, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran, to 20th and 21st century painters and photographers including Ansel Adams, Jay Jaffee, Jane Wilson, and Robert Dash, this exhibition suggests the supposedly timeless nature of a fixed American landscape is illusory. Legions of artists have chronicled the nation’s picturesque natural beauty while simultaneously cataloging the complex human and environmental drama across the land.
The landscape constantly evolves. Artists capture a single moment in time, gone in the flick of a brush or the snap of a camera’s shutter. Scenery changes at different times of day, seasons, temperatures, and atmospheric pressures. The human impact on the land brings its own tragic consequential shifts, through pollution, the intrusion of the built environment, and the introduction of invasive species.
But it’s not just a dynamic landscape that artists seek to measure. “My private glimpses of some ideal reality create a lasting mood that has often been recalled in some of my photographs,” wrote Ansel Adams. “The subtle changes of light across a waterfall moved me as did a singular vista of a far-off mountain under a leaden sky…Deep resonances of spirit exist, giving us glimpses of a reality far beyond our general appreciation and knowledge.”
American Horizons, East to West celebrates two centuries of artist’s efforts to capture an ever-changing powerful environment that fills us simultaneously with awe and dread over threats to its survival.