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Two Exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Art Document
19th-Century Optimism
February 21 –
May 9, 2004

Heinz Galleries


























America the Beautiful
Upcoming Programs and Special Events

Programs are free with museum admission unless otherwise noted.

Drop-in Tours
America the Beautiful: 19th-century Landscape Paintings and Photographs
Tues.-Sun., Feb. 21-May 9, 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Meet in the Museum of Art lobby.

Guided tours through two stunning exhibitions focusing on the beauty and vastness of the American landscape as expressed by 19th-century painters and photographers. The first Saturday of every month, the tour is sign-language interpreted.

Group Tours
Call 412.622.3289 to schedule a docent-guided tour for your adult, community, or school group. To schedule a slide-illustrated talk for a community group, call Deborah Starling-Pollard at 412.622.5578.

Paintings and Prints, Politics and Prose
Sat., March 6, 1-3 p.m.
Museum of Art Theater

Explore the converging forces that defined and shaped the national identity of Britain and the United States with three distinguished lecturers:

Gillian Forrester, associate curator of prints and drawings at the Yale Center for British Art, will address British imperial expansion and the Romantic fascination with the landscape and the natural world

Timothy Barringer, assistant professor, history of art department, Yale University, and co-author of The American Sublime: American Landscape Painting, 1820-1880, will distill the essential themes in American landscape painting and the emergence of an independent American identity inspired by English traditions, westward expansion, and empire building

Robin Grey, associate professor of English, University of Illinois, will discuss the importance of writers such as John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau in shaping a national identity and changes in literature, art, and politics that emerged in the pre-Civil War period.

ARTventures: Family Art Activities
Sat. and Sun., March 13-May 9, 12:30-4:30 p.m.
Travel through the forests and over the plains hunting for landscape images in paintings in the galleries. Create your own spyglass to look more closely at the world around you.

Lunch & Learn: American Landscape Painting
Thurs., March 18, 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
$25 members; $30 nonmembers (lunch included)
Call 412.622.3288 to registe

















































Albert Bierstadt, American, 1830-1902,In the Mountains, 1867, oil on canvas,
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

By the 19th century, industry was changing forever the way people lived. Many of the forests in the Old World had been cut and burned, machinery ran on coal, and most people in England lived in urban areas rather than on farms. The New World was not to be left behind—there, too, cities were expanding, forests were leveled, and human domination of the natural world was America’s Manifest Destiny, a goal ordained by God. Ironically, during this time an appreciation for the beauties of nature, captured by landscape painters and photographers, took hold of the public imagination. Americans bragged about the grandeur of their trees, even as they cut them down.

Opening February 21, two exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Art illustrate the mindset of artists and thinkers in the New World. Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art contains 55 masterpieces from the best collection of Hudson River School paintings in the world. Eloquent Vistas: the Art of 19th-Century American Landscape Photography from the George Eastman House Collection, Rochester, New York, is a survey of the American landscape photograph. Together, these exhibitions seize a moment when America was all potential, when frontiers were still waiting to be explored, and leaving a mark on the wilderness was a noble pursuit.


Hudson River School:
Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Thomas Cole, American, 1801-1848, Scene from "The Last of the Mohicans," Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 1827, oil on canvas, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The Power of Landscape Paintings
America’s first school of landscape painters arose from a natural awe of and respect for the wonders of the new continent.

“This was the first self-conscious attempt to make American landscape paintings,” says Louise Lippincott, curator of fine art at Carnegie Museum of Art. “There was a deep interest in specifically American scenes—they really became images of patriotic optimism.”

The unexplored vistas were so much bigger and freer than the comparatively tame and manicured English countryside. The Hudson River school painters explored the Connecticut River, Niagara Falls, and Lake George in upstate New York—the territory memorialized by novelist James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking Tales. The land at its moment of transformation from wild to tame was a dynamic subject. Early in the century, the natural world was a powerful force; by the end, nature had been largely subjugated to human will.

The arrival of painter Thomas Cole in New York City in 1825 marks the beginning of the Hudson River school, which lasted until about 1870. The core of the collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art was formed by two patrons, Daniel Wadsworth (1771-1848), who founded the museum, and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt (1826-1905), widow of arms manufacturer Samuel Colt. Both patrons commissioned many of the works in the collection.

“ This is a masterpiece show,” says Lippincott. “These are great pictures, probably the best collection of this school of painting in the country. People should come in and be prepared to revel in the splendor of it.”

And splendid these works are, both in technique and subject matter. Niagara Falls, painted by Cole’s apprentice Frederic Edwin Church in 1856, is emblematic of the school as it captures the awe-inspiring power of the water, the ever-present rainbow, a small watchtower, and three tiny houses—reminders that man is insignificant in the face of natural forces. The Falls themselves were already a national icon, a reminder that this young country had more powerful waterfalls, bigger trees, and untamed wilderness than the continent most of its inhabitants had left behind. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Niagara Falls was a popular tourist destination, and nearly every landscape painter of this period painted it. This exhibition alone includes paintings of the Falls by John Trumbull, John F. Kensett, Alvan Fisher, and Thomas Chambers, in addition to Church.

Masters of the Earth
Thomas Cole, reflecting on the opportunities for painters in this country, remarked “All nature here is new to Art,” adding the scenes of Europe were “hackneyed and worn by the daily pencils of hundreds,” but for the American painter, the forests, lakes, and falls “had been preserved untouched from the time of creation for his heaven-favored pencil.”

David Johnson,American, 1827-1908
Study, Franconia Mountains from West Campton, New Hampshire, c.1861-63,
oil on canvas,The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Cole found special inspiration in Cooper’s tales of the steadfast scout Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye. One of his more famous works illustrates a climactic scene from The Last of the Mohicans, in which a young woman, one of several English people kidnapped by an American Indian, pleads for mercy from the wise old chief Tamenund. In the novel, the scene is all cunning talk, manipulation, and ritual diplomacy, as the evil Indian Magua bargains for his prisoners. In Cole’s interpretation, these human events are nothing in the face of the majesty of the mountains. While Cooper set the scene in the area around Lake George, Cole drew on the White Mountains of New Hampshire as a more fitting backdrop.

“The Hudson River painters freely rearranged the topography to improve the landscape,” explains Lippincott. “The goal was to create a strong emotional reaction in the viewer.”

The novel ends as Chingachgook, the grieving father of the recently murdered last Mohican, states, “The pale-faces are masters of the earth and the time of the redmen has not yet come again.” Cole, in his painting, complicates this statement, for who can ever master this awe-inspiring place? The round boulder perched on the pinnacle in the background serves to remind the viewer of how small the human inhabitants are and how temporary their stay.

Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art has been organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The national tour is sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

Generous support for the exhibition’s presentation in Pittsburgh has been provided by The Laurel Foundation. Additional support has been provided by The Fellows and Associates Funds of Carnegie Museum of Art.


Eloquent Vistas:
Documenting the Disappearing Wilderness

Eadweard Muybridge, American, 1830-1904, The Domes from Merced River,
Yosemite Valley
, c. 1874, albumen print, George Eastman House

Just as the Hudson River painters manipulated the scenery they painted, photographers also created a scene by the act of choosing and framing it. And here too, the irresistible appeal of Niagara Falls, as well as other natural sights, were popular subjects. As many of the photographs were taken later in the century, they also document great changes in the continent, the building of the railroads, and the battlefields of the Civil War, as the country struggled to establish its identity.

Early landscape photographers had to face physical challenges and manage cumbersome technology that painters did not. Until the 1880s, photographers had to prepare the negative just before exposure, and then immediately develop and fix it while the chemicals on the plate were still damp, necessitating the presence of some sort of traveling darkroom. And because enlarging was expensive, most photographers made contact prints by placing the negative directly on the contact paper, making the finished print the same size as the negative. The photographs in Eloquent Vistas are all contact prints made in this way, and as the scenery of the period seemed to require large photographs, the cameras used to take the pictures had to be even larger.

Eadweard Muybridge, American, 1830-1904, Vernal Fall, 350 Ft., Yosemite Valley, c. 1874, albumen print, George Eastman House










But the very act of photographing the wilderness, especially the western wilderness, changed both the public perception and the use of it. The development of trains and telegraphs brought tourists, lured by the pictures made along the route of the railroad tracks. It was photographs of Yellowstone that led President Ulysses Grant to sign a bill in 1872 protecting its natural state, and photographs also led to the conservation of Yosemite.

By the end of the century, an industrial aesthetic replaced the natural one. The frontier was more accessible and less mysterious. American artists concentrated on urban subjects, studied the human figure, and turned away from broad views of the disappearing wilderness.

Eloquent Vistas: The Art of 19th-Century American Landscape Photographers from the George Eastman House Collection has been organized by the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Generous support has been provided by The William Talbott Hillman Foundation, Inc. and the W.P. Snyder III Charitable Fund.


A concurrent exhibition from the Yale Center for British Art also looks back to works inspired by a search for national identity.

The Romantic Print in Britain

James Gillray (1757-1815), The Death of the Great Wolf, 1795, etching and engraving with hand-coloring, Yale Center for British Art.

The Romantic Print in Britain (1776-1880) covers a period that includes the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and the growth of the British Empire, which led to an increased slave trade as well as to colonies in America, India, the South Seas, and the Caribbean. The prints in this exhibition illustrate these conditions, as well as the Romantic obsession with celebrities and historic events.

Unlike the Hudson River school landscapes, these prints dwell more on intellectual subjects and the life of the mind. The printmaking process itself is less spontaneous than painting or photography, and the exhibition includes tools, plates, and progress prints to illustrate the evolution of a specific image.

“By the 19th century, collecting prints in Britain was a well-established practice,” explains Linda Batis, associate curator of fine art at Carnegie Museum of Art, whose speciality is works on paper. “These prints were intended to be purchased by the public.”

The Death of General Wolfe, 1776, by William Woollett (1735-1785), a line-engraving with etching, is typical both in subject matter and in process. Benjamin West’s (1738-1820) original painting of the death of Major-General James Wolfe at Quebec in 1759 was a romanticized version of a historically important event. The painting was instantly popular, and the engraving of it by Woollett was published four years later and sold by subscription. Woollett was considered the best engraver in England, and his role in producing the print increased the importance of the painting.

“The photographer and the painter were more immediately in touch with the actual subject than the printer making a print from a painting,” says Batis. “But the prints, photographs, and paintings all have something of a concern with the heroic in them. Whether landscapes or individual portraits, the places, people, and events are larger than life.”

The Romantic Print in Britain has been organized by the Yale Center for British Art. The exhibition’s presentation in Pittsburgh has been generously supported by the Gailliot Family Foundation.

General support for all the museum’s exhibition programs is provided by The Heinz Endowments and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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