Virginia Historical Society

Richmond, VA



The Virginia Landscape


Thomas Jefferson once boasted to a friend in England, "Our own country . . . is made on an improved plan. Europe is a first idea, a crude production, before the [M]aker knew his trade." He was talking about the landscape of Virginia, and an exhibition which opened July 13, 2000, at the Virginia Historical Society may provide compelling evidence to support his notion. "The Virginia Landscape," the largest assembly of Virginia landscape images ever exhibited, illustrates the importance of the landscape in shaping the commonwealth and creating its identity. More than 240 landscape paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs, dating from the colonial period to the present, reveal much about Virginia's natural history and the attitudes of its citizens.(left: Edward Beyer, The Peaks of Otter and the Town of Liberty, 1855, The Virginia Historical Society)

Initially, the commonwealth was best known for its natural landmarks like the Dismal Swamp, the Peaks of Otter, and Natural Bridge. Visitors traveled great distances - even across oceans - just to see these wonders. With the fame of such historic landmarks as Mount Vernon, Monticello, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia soon became known also as a place where significant American history unfolded. Artists painted these sites as a way to remember history. Other canvases illustrate the effect of twentieth-century patterns of growth on the natural environment. "Never before has such a body of work been displayed or critically examined," remarks Charles F. Bryan, Jr., director of the Virginia Historical Society. (left: Alexis Fournier, The Passing Storm, Shenandoah Valley, 1923, The Virginia Historical Society; right: Hubert Vos, Mossy Creek, c. 1900, The Virginia Historical Society)

"The Virginia Landscape" is about the land and the cultural and historic changes that have occurred in the commonwealth during the last four centuries. It traces the rural settlement of the colony and state along the models of the plantation and market town, and examines the meaning of progress in Virginia by following the visual record of urban growth and the construction of canals and railroads. It surveys Virginia's Civil War landscape, which in 1864 inspired Walt Whitman's interest: "Dilapidated, fenceless, and trodden with war as Virginia is, wherever I move across her surface, I find myself rous'd to surprise and admiration. What capacity for production, improvements, human life, nourishment and expansion." The exhibit follows the path of landscape imagery to the end of the twentieth century, when a tradition of nature painting finally was established in the state, in defiance of environmental threats to the land. (left: Rockwell Kent, Child Under Tree, Virginia, 1956, The Virginia Historical Society; right: Edward Beyer, A View of Salem, 1855, The Virginia Historical Society)

Scattered throughout this multi-gallery landmark exhibit are works by well-known figures such as Albert Bierstadt, George Inness , David Johnson, Rockwell Kent Gari Melchers, Charles Sheeler, William Louis Sonntag, Wayne Thiebaud, Wordsworth Thompson, and Thomas Worthington Whittredge, as well as a number of lesser known but highly competent artists like Edward Beyer, Alexis Fournier, and Theresa Pollack. "The Virginia Landscape," on view through November 12, 2000, is underwritten by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Robins Foundation, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. (left: Lefevre Cranstone, Richmond, Virginia, 1859, The Virginia Historical Society)

"The Virginia Landscape: A Cultural History," the 224-page exhibition catalog containing hundreds of color images of the landscape paintings, is co-authored by the exhibition co-curators Dr. James C. Kelly and Dr. William M. S. Rasmussen. The catalog is available in the Museum Shop.

Read more about the Virginia Historical Society in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/18/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.