University Art Museum

University of Kentucky

Lexington, KY



Town and Country: Landscapes from the Collection

June 27, 1999 - June 25, 2000


The University of Kentucky Art Museum preserves a notable collection of European and American landscapes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The nineteenth-century British landscape masters established the importance of working from nature. Scenes of inhabited, domesticated landscapes by John Constable reconcile what he observed, such as shifting effects of light or changing weather conditions, with what the artist knew of existing traditions in landscape painting. Subsequent artists, such as the sporting artist J. F. Herring, Jr. and James Meadows, combined a sharp eye for natural detail and for the tone of English sunlight in their picturesque rural scenes. (left: Paul Sawyier, 1865-1917, Jamaica Bay (A Summer Sketch), c. 1916, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, University of Kentucky Art Museum, Gift of Mattie Schmidt Bowyer in memory of her husband Charles Henry Bowyer. 1946.1.17)

By the end of the nineteenth century, Impressionism--the "new" French painting--had a decisive impact on the landscape tradition. Increasingly, artists were inspired to search for a deeper, more intense way of looking at nature and to appreciate the subtleties of light, atmosphere, and color evident in even the most ordinary or familiar of landscapes. Academic artists "modernized" their impeccable draftsmanship with an impressionistic application of vibrant paint and loose brushwork, as is evident in work by Julien Dupré. American Impressionists, such as Willard Metcalf, Childe Hassam, even the Kentucky painter Paul Sawyier, investigated the properties of light and their works emphasize atmospheric ambiance over topographical description. After the turn of the century, many artists, such as Gustave Loiseau, continued to paint directly from nature in the tradition of Monet. Other artists preferred more subjective interpretations of reality--the Post-impressionist painter Maurice Denis favored deep colors and simplified, decorative designs for his dreamy, stylized landscapes. (right: Willard Leroy Metcalf, 1858-1925, Giverny, 1887, oil on canvas, 26 x 32 1/8 inches, University of Kentucky Art Museum, Bequest of Addison M. Metcalf. 1984.19.10)

As the twentieth century progressed, the art world was transformed by the innovative force of modernism--the structure of Cubism, the vivid color of Fauvism, the visual analysis of Futurism, the emotional intensity of German Expressionism--and these were quickly grafted onto landscape subjects. The German painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff aimed to express authentic, impassioned feeling through a primitivizing aesthetic that favored simplified forms and bold color. American artists, such as Abraham Walkowitz and John Marin, were willing to distort reality for expressive purposes as their style moved increasingly toward abstraction. Milton Avery's work embodies the vigor of American modernism in balancing his inclination toward abstraction with his devotion to working from nature.

Text courtesy of Rachael Sadinsky, Curator, University of Kentucky Art Museum


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

rev. 10/26/10

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