Expanding Horizons: Painting and Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860-1918

June 18 - September 27, 2009



More about the themes of the exhibition

The exhibition is organized into six conceptual themes, reflecting evolving visions of the landscape and national identity.



The first theme explores the self-conscious and idealized articulation of the American and Canadian national visions. The painters of the Hudson River School, including Asher Durand, John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey and Frederic Church, created a stylistic identity for the characterisation of American landscape painting. These artists' formula combined a spiritually infused idealisation of landscape with a meticulous detailing of nature. They expressed a uniquely American co-existence with a transcendent nature, even when inevitable technological and agricultural advances are depicted. In such works, scale often played a role in grandiloquently conveying the promise of "manifest destiny." The expansionist vision of the Hudson River School continued to be advanced in the 1860s and began with Albert Bierstadt and his contemporaries such as Thomas Moran, through the influence of photography and the taming of the colour range employed by the earlier generation.

Luminism, a competing trend to the Hudson River School, favoured a smaller contemplative scheme. This movement placed a substantial emphasis upon rendering atmospheric phenomena and the effects of both direct and reflected light. In addition, the philosophical, ideological, and commercial concerns of Martin Johnson Heade, Fitz Hugh Lane and George Inness, as well as the innovations of John Kensett, will provide significant material for consideration.

Some of the leading figures of Canadian painting during these years were Lucius O'Brien, Homer Watson, John Fraser, F.A. Verner and Frederic Bell-Smith. As they were strongly influenced by American contemporaries -- like Albert Bierstadt -- and by the Luminist movement, the character of this cross-influence will be addressed. Other Canadian artists created picturesque images of the charms of Quebec winter landscapes and villages or the recently developing towns of Ontario, according to local audience tastes.

In this section, parallel developments in photography -- from the panoramic studies of A.J. Russell, William Henry Jackson, Timothy O'Sullivan, Benjamin Baltzly and William Haggerty to the Luminist sensibilities of Edward Steichen -- will be examined and discussed in terms of painterly ambitions, nationhood and the Western Frontier.



The disenfranchisement, cultural impoverishment and decimation of Native peoples in the two countries (resulting from disease, ruthless wars, forced relocation onto reservations and, in Canada, large-scale, low-value purchases of Native territory) forever altered the relation of Aboriginal people with the land they had inhabited for 15,000 years. Ironically, this period coincided with a broader and increasing public interest in Aboriginal people, both expressed and popularized by news headlines surrounding such conflicts. The diminishing of the "frontier" wilderness, the emerging controversy over these events and policies and the near-extinction of the buffalo and bison (greatly accelerated by the construction of two transcontinental railroads) led to a desire to record and memorialize the Native communities and their lifestyles. Their images, as captured or interpreted by artists, contributed to the distinctive national characters of both countries.

Concomitant with these concerns were the efforts to present national and natural histories of the United States and Canada using their landscapes as backdrops to distinguish the "New World" from "Old Europe." Many American painters -- Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Worthington Whittredge, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington -- and well-known photographers such as Timothy O'Sullivan and Edward S. Curtis encouraged this view with frequently romanticised and sometimes polemic images. In Canada, painters such as Henry Sandham, William Brymner, Homer Watson and Emily Carr, and photographers such as Alexander Henderson, Charles Horetzky and William Notman captured their own land, its Aboriginal inhabitants and its rapidly changing landscape.



As industry and transportation developed, the countryside was being transformed. The progress westward was recorded and viewed in painting and photography with exultant enthusiasm. The very surveys that laid the groundwork for expanding the railroads, building highways, planning new towns, clearing land for farms, exploiting natural resources and organising recreation provided crucial records of what would be lost.

These images would also indelibly stamp into the popular imagination both national pride and an identity stemming from the geography of the two countries. Jasper Francis Cropsey, Carleton E. Watkins, A.Y. Jackson, Darius Kinsey, Thomas Moran, William Notman, Benjamin Baltzly, Charles Horetzky, William Brymner and others recorded the creation of dams, railways, bridges and roads, as well as the felling of the primeval forests and giant redwoods, as these activities permanently alter the visual character of the land.



Artistic representations of the wonders of nature provided opportunities for city dwellers to escape the stresses and demands of urban life and to contemplate the mysteries of life. The Arcadian visions of Thomas Eakins, the resort culture captured by William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer and Maurice Prendergast and the sea and wilderness conjured by Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington and John Singer Sargent had their Canadian corollaries in works by William Brymner, J.W. Morrice, Maurice Cullen, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté and the Group of Seven. The photography of Carleton E. Watkins, Thomas Eakins and William Notman also echoes these themes.



By the early 20th century, large industrial towns had significantly encroached upon the virgin wilderness of North America. Crowded cities, immigrant tenements and shanties became the subjects of work by Ralph Albert Blakelock, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jacob Riis, Edward S. Curtis, Alfred Stieglitz, Alexander Henderson, William Notman and J.E.H. MacDonald. At the same time, the city provided a dramatically exciting landscape of urban canyons, atmospheric mystery and brilliant colours exploited by Maurice Prendergast, Edward Steichen, Karl Struss, Paul Strand, Childe Hassam, Lucius O'Brien, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Cullen, and David Milne. The accompanying economic and international influences upon the shifting of national identity and its self-conscious characterisation will be explored in greater depth during this last phase of the exhibition.



This final section will explore the rediscovery of the transcendence of the nature and the evocative spiritual dimensions of landscape by artists working within the stylistic terms of the 20th century. Such artists include Georgia O'Keeffe, Lawren Harris, Henry Twatchman, A.Y. Jackson, Davild Milne, Tom Thomson, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and J.E.H. MacDonald.


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