The lasting image of America established by the Hudson River School painters of the mid-nineteenth century is one of sublime untamed wilderness and breathtaking beauty. In reality, however, the American landscape was fraught with both political and social tension and in the midst of a period of tremendous expansion and development. Countering the rapid industrialization of the seaboard regions of the northern states, southern plantations and economies increasingly depended on enslaved labor, thus bringing the polemical issue of human bondage to the forefront of national attention.
This exhibition addresses a central problem faced by artists who depicted the American landscape during this period: how to represent a nation that was ruthlessly divided by political tensions and, by the 1860s, a site of unprecedented violence and trauma. The exhibition considers the myriad ways in which artists of the period grappled with the vexing problem of representing a nation at war. Images by Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Sanford Robinson Gifford, David Johnson, John Frederick Kensett, Aaron Draper Shattuck, and others contextualize the questions and challenges faced by American landscapists in these years. These pieces are supplemented with photographs by Mathew Brady and lithographs by Currier & Ives, on loan from U.Va.'s Special Collections Library, which engage the carnage of war in a more direct manner. The exhibition demonstrates that American landscapes of the mid-nineteenth century are as notable for what they did not depict as for what they showed, and that the vision of America they articulated and imagined remains powerful today.
The Museum's programming is made possible by the generous support of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of an anonymous donor, Ted Cooper of Adams Davidson Galleries, the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, Albemarle Magazine, Ivy Publications LLC's Charlottesville Welcome Book, and The Hook.