Minnesota Marine Art Museum presnets Re/Framing The View.
Nineteenth-century American artists are well known for their depictions of nature and the outdoors, for their commitment to creating a national “school” of painting, and for their documentation and idealization of scenery ranging from the imagined and pastoral to the dramatic and sublime.
Drawn from six private collections, the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection, and six strategic institutional loans, Re/Framing the View: Nineteenth-century American Landscapes includes works by William Bradford, John F. Kensett, Martin Johnson Heade, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Jasper Francis Cropsey, George Inness, Francis A. Silva, and Sanford Robinson Gifford, among many others.
As this list suggests, the majority of US based nineteenth-century American painters were men, and heading out into the wilderness to capture the scene was viewed as a masculine pursuit. A selection of objects – including china, nature studies in watercolor, and decorative arts – underscore the gendered aspects of American landscape painting by demonstrating where and how women participated in capturing American flora and fauna.
While the exhibition celebrates the work of these artists, it also offers a layered interpretation of the cultural and historical meaning of such paintings. What such artists often failed to capture are the environmental conditions and social concerns that may underlie picturesque imagery.
The exhibition therefore aims to recast such orthodox American landscape paintings through a careful consideration of the roles women played in picturing nature – via still life, needlepoint, watercolor, and decorative arts, and the ways in which environmental degradation, Federal Native American removal policies, and racialization are either pictured or erased in American scenes.
Contemplating the paintings versus the subject matter, labels, interpretive texts, and strategic juxtapositions allows us to question what we “see” in the scene versus what we know was happening. Themes explored include the environmental and cultural violence underlying nineteenth-century American landscape painting, including manifest destiny, settler colonialism, and Native removal; material extraction and industrial expansion; agricultural development and fisheries; and global exploration and imperialist projects.
By interrogating the place of gender, race and ethnicity, as well as environment and ecology, we re/frame the view and stage meaningful conversations about historical and contemporary issues and events.
The exhibition promises to be an exciting and timely invitation to view paintings held in private hands and usually hung behind closed doors – and explore the many meanings of the American landscape, both historically to nineteenth-century viewers and today for twenty-first century audiences.
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