'American Landscapes' Exhibit Show Natural Wonders in Different Lights

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

'American Landscapes' Exhibit Show Natural Wonders in Different Lights


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Think "American landscape painting" and the Hudson River School of the 19th century will likely come to mind. And though that may be this country's first concerted movement in the genre, the reality is that it was only the beginning. In fact, landscape painting -- American style -- is alive and well in this country, and by now it has a history far richer than the saccharine hues of a Frederic Church sunrise.

Take for example the latest exhibit to open at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg. Titled "American Landscapes," it showcases 19th- and 20th-century American landscape. The 40 paintings selected are from the collection of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y., a museum whose collection is particularly flush with works by artists associated with Long Island's East End, such as American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and 20th-century Realist Fairfield Porter (1907-1975).

As to be expected, many of the earliest paintings in the exhibit feature what were considered the most alluring natural wonders of the day, such as Niagara Falls. The falls also attracted Hudson River School painters during the mid-19th century, but are represented here in a wonderful late 19th-century work -- "Horseshoe Falls Niagara" (c. 1894) by John Henry Twachtman.

Twachtman, who had a high regard for the naturalism found in the rural landscapes associated with the French Barbizon school, had studied in Europe prior to the creation of this painting. Twachtman takes on the subject not as memorialized national icon, but as natural phenomenon.

Considered one of the final frontiers by that time, Florida still held a particular allure among landscape painters at the end of the 19th century. Though painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) has oft been lumped in with the Hudson River School painters, he was less interested in topographically accurate views than they were, and instead focused on mood and the effects of light. Thus, two small works by him on display here -- "Sunset: A Florida Marsh" (c. 1895-1904) and "Florida Sunset, with Palm Trees" (c. 1895-1904) -- catch his swampy subjects in a somber soft light of dusk.

The show includes a wonderful untitled work by William Merritt Chase, featuring a very rural farmscape the artist spotted while visiting Southampton on Long Island in the early 1890s.

In 1891, a group of civic-minded Southampton residents had the idea of opening a summer art school based on the "plein air," or out- of-doors, type of painting then so popular in Europe. …

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