Wednesday, July 6, 2016

National Gallery of Art | Washington, DC part 2

So, this post is heavy on the images and light on the words. I love art, but I guess I'm a bit basic in what art I really admire. I'm no good at art criticism in any capacity, but I have a lot of thoughts on my favorite art movements.

Green River Cliffs, Wyoming - Thomas Moran - 1881

Let's just get this out of the way: the Hudson River School is my opinion of ultimate landscape art. I occasionally paint -- I copy existing paintings onto wood board with acrylics, that is -- and I always go back to Hudson River School paintings. I edit my own crappy iPhone landscape photos to look more HRS and follow the spiritual successors of that great American art movement on Instagram.

El Rio de Luz - Frederic Edwin Church - 1877

The Hudson River School was late-19th century art movement rooted in Romanticism-inspired landscape, begun in the Hudson River Valley of New York state. It spread to New England, the American West, and was essentially the aesthetic ancestor of much art and imagery produced of the American wilderness thereafter.

Tamaca Palms - Frederic Edwin Church - 1854

Not all of the art in this post is HRS by any means, but I've tried to front-load them so you can get a sense of the style. It's not subtle at all. It's brash and bold and makes me -- figuratively speaking -- want to start a USA! USA! chant in the middle of a museum.

Buffalo Trail: the Impending Storm - Albert Bierstadt - 1869

Wikiart is another good place to look at more HRS art, and you'll quickly find that some of the works depict places in the world of not-America. That's okay, that's okay.

Niagara - Frederic Edwin Church - 1857

Here is my opinion on the significance of the Hudson River School. I wrote a short essay about it for a class last fall, but I have forgotten the sources and will just summarize briefly here. In the early "modern" era -- post-Enlightenment -- western society became disenchanted with nature, a previously vital and powerful, unpredictable and dangerous place where gods did their work. The march towards a worldview of controlling nature came on the heels of many Greek philosophers, the Abrahamic religions, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. In the mid-late 1800s, there was a surge of art and literature -- Emerson and Thoreau are the obvious answers -- to reclaim enchantment with nature.

The Last of the Buffalo - Albert Bierstadt - 1888

The grandeur of nature conveyed by Romantic art, the turbo-charged grandeur of American nature conveyed by the HRS, is a reintroduction of God into nature, but in an anthropocentric, and even egocentric way. It's a glorification of the magnificence of the "untouched" wilderness, the drama of God in the clouds/intense sunlight/mountains/forests/high-contrast vivid colors/etc. If you're cringing, you can think of it as another example of ham-fisted American imperialism. These paintings were, after all, used as propaganda for westward movement and vacationing.

Mount Corcoran - Albert Bierstadt - 1877

That's all I'll say about HRS. To get the same feel of the American wild via text, I recommend John Muir.

The National Gallery of Art has a great collection of these paintings, and I do love them.

Natural Arch at Capri - William Stanley Haseltine - 1871

Ruins of the Parthenon - Sanford Robinson Gifford - 1880

The Voyage of Life - Thomas Cole - 1842

Thomas Cole was a founder of the HRS, and his work is pretty much amazing all around. Romanticism galore and allegories here and there. Analyses of his landscape works will tell a lot about that movement, certainly better than I can here.

Left: Portrait of George Washington - Rembrandt Peale - 1795-1823
Right: Washington before Yorktown - Rembrandt Peale - 1824

Indian Gallery - George Catlin

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon - John Martin - 1860

Left: The Japanese Footbridge - Claude Monet - 1899
Right: an atrium in the National Gallery

The Edge of the Forest at Les Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau - Narcisse Diaz de la Peña - 1868

Left: Madonna and Child with Angels - Orcagna and Jacopo di Cione - before 1370
Right: The Adoration of the Magi - Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi - c. 1440/1460

Left: Ginevra de' Benci, obverse - Leonardo da Vinci - c. 1474/1478
Right: its reverse

Landscape with the Flight into Egypt - Roelandt Savery - 1624

Saint George and the Dragon - Sodoma - 1518

As a prelude to my Germany posts, I really like dragon and serpent imagery. Just a warning for many dragon pictures to come.

Left: Flowers in a Basket and a Vase - Jan Brueghel the Elder - 1615
Right: Still Life with Artichokes and a Parrot - Italian 17th century

Left: Still Life with Flowers and Fruit - Jan van Huysum - 1715
Right: The Larder - Antonio Maria Vassallo - c. 1650/1660

Left: The Hydrogen Man - Leonard Baskin - 1954
Right: Booster - Robert Rauschenberg - 1967

Riders of the Apocalypse - Benton Murdoch Spruance - 1943

Just to show that I'm not entirely about glory, glory, Hallelujah USA, this is one of my clear favorites from the museum. I feel a little silly, but it gives a very Guernica-like feeling, but with the aggressors being American planes (check out the stars on the fuselage).

Anyhow, the next post is very aircraft-heavy. I like planes.


  1. Haha I never know what to say about art, which is a shame because it's hard for me to convey how I appreciate it! The atrium is beautiful :) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    1. When it's an art movement I like, I'l go ham. Art appreciation is different for everyone!

  2. I've never heard of the Hudson River School before - I don't know much about American art in general! But I do really like these, I'm a sucker for a dramatic landscape, especially if there's some sort of emphasis on lighting.

    1. It's my favorite part of American art, honestly. The dramatic landscape is probably the easiest kind of art to relate to, and the closest thing I can think of to objective beauty. Art snobs cut me down for this, but you don't need to know anything about the Bible or mythology or history to be moved by a dramatic landscape.

      Romanticism got American writers hard. But John Muir's stuff is damn heavy-handed about the power of a beautiful, wild place: