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Opening Night of "Nature in America"

Today’s post comes from Erin Gallagher, class of 2013 and Art Center Student Docent.

Aaron Draper Shattuck (American, 1832-1928), Sunset at Lancaster, New Hampshire, 1859. Oil on canvas. Gift of Matthew Vassar. 1864.1.66.

Friday, June 29, was the opening of the exhibition, “Nature in America: Taming the Landscape.” The night began with the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings, Patricia Phagan, as she lead a well attended tour through the three rooms of the exhibit. Phagan explained that the majority of works on display in “Nature in America” are from the permanent collection and showcase the three major phases in representation of landscape through the two world wars.

The first gallery explores the romantic elements of nature as rendered by artists of the Hudson River School as well as early Western photographers, who treated the wilderness as a vast idyllic force and embraced the dramatic qualities of the picturesque. Painters, such as Aaron Draper Shattuck, created scenes of grand vistas that emphasized monumental features of the landscape. His painting, Sunset at Lancaster, New Hampshire, reveals a highly romantic image of sprawling mountains­­––the bright yellows and oranges of the setting sun intensified to lend an added drama to the threatening presence of dark storm clouds.

As we moved into the second gallery, Phagan explained that many artists from around the time of the Civil War and afterwards chose to focus on softer aspects of nature, depicting intimate moments within the landscape rather than epic scenes. The loose brushwork that characterizes these works evidences the growing trend towards the immediacy of painting outdoors as well as the influence of the Barbizon School and the French Impressionists.

In the third gallery Phagan chose to highlight works from early-20th-century artists who were interested in fragmenting nature by visually breaking up the landscape and drawing out reoccurring patterns, colors, and lines. Photographer Ansel Adams achieved the same effects with photography by seeking out the majestic monumental forms that captivated the Hudson River School painters, yet framing the images to focus on the sculptural quality of their forms.

The night ended with live music by the Chris O’Leary Band, as visitors were welcomed to stroll through the newly refurbished Sculpture Garden and enjoy the Art Center’s very own slice of landscape. The Hildegarde Krause Baker, class of 1911, Sculpture Garden was a memorial gift by Eric and Jane Baker Nord, class of 1942. The current renovation was made possible through a gift made by the late Ralph Connor, Vassar Trustee from 1963 through 1971.

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  1. Kate Johnson

    A quietly powerful exhibition. Some of these works are very subtle; the hanging scheme suits them well. Truly thought provoking. Thanks.

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