Seattle Art Museum

Seattle, WA

(206) 654-3100


Early American Landscapes and Graphic Traditions

June 11, 1999 to May 14, 2000


For most of the nineteenth century, aspiring American artists relied on European precedents for inspiration and aesthetic guidance. They traveled abroad to see paintings in European collections and diligently studied etchings and engravings imported to the U.S. The landscape painters of the new republic faced a difficult dilemma: they wanted to assert their independence from Europe, but they inevitably built on foundations and pictorial traditions that were essentially European. Thus in his famous essay "On American Scenery" (1835), the country's leading landscape painter, Thomas Cole, wrote "...though American scenery is destitute of many of those circumstances that [Europeans value], still it has features, and glorious ones, unknown to Europe."

Sanford Gifford (1823-1880), Mount Ranier, Washington Territory, 1875, oil on canvas, Partial and promised gift of an anonymous donor and fractional interest gift, by exchange, of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Brechemin, Max R Schweitzer, Hickman Price, Jr., in memory of Hickman Price, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Hirschl, and the estate of Louise Raymond Owens, 90.29

Gifford visited Washington Territory in the summer of 1874, fifteen years before statehood. The drawings he made of Mount Rainier served as models for this painting, which he completed in the winter of 1875 in his New York studio.

Gifford's view of Mount Rainier from Commencement Bay in Tacoma celebrated the grandeur of the Cascade Mountains. He avoided evidence of the rapidly growing lumber town but, like many other artists, included a Romantic vignette of Native Americans. The Far West was majestic and exotic terrain for Gifford and his East coast peers.

By the 1850s a generation of American artists had made a concerted effort to celebrate American scenery. Their pictures of the American wilderness featured forests, mountains, and waterfalls and provoked deep feelings of awe and wonder. Art historians now dub this diverse group the Hudson River School.

This exhibition provides an opportunity to compare American and English landscape images. The European works show the conventions and themes that were established when landscape painting emerged in the Baroque period. The American pictures suggest the young nation's desire to develop her own school of landscape.

Curator: Trevor Fairbrother; Assistant Curator: Rock Hushka


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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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