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American Sublime: Epic Landscapes of Our Nation, 1820-1880


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is pleased to announce a spectacular exhibition of American landscape paintings of the famed Hudson River School on view June 15 - August 25, 2002. Organized by London's Tate Gallery, American Sublime examines these epic works from an international context, concentrating on the classic period of the Hudson River School from the years 1835 to 1870. The more than eighty works on view, many of grand proportions, will illustrate the evolution of this period of American landscape painting through its most celebrated masters. From the symbolic works of Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole to the breathtaking panoramas of Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church, the canvases record a newly explored continent of lush wilderness, raging waterfalls, and majestic mountain ranges. The Pennsylvania Academy is the first of only two United States venues for this show, and the only East Coast venue.

These landscapes, vast in expanse and beauty, truly embody the language of the Sublime, evoking our most powerful emotions -- inspiring awe, terror, and delight in the seemingly boundless country that lay beyond the safety of European settlement. Organized into eight themed sections: Wilderness, The Course of Empire, The Still Small Voice, Awful Grandeur, Painting from Nature, A Transcendental Vision, Explorations, and The Great West, the works follow a chronological path through the subjects and styles of the Hudson River School. Borrowing elements from their European predecessors, many of the earlier works are reminiscent of J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and the painters of the high Romantic period in England as well as the German landscape tradition, while later works succeed in capturing genuine American scenery in faithful detail. (left:

The show begins with two grand paintings by J.M.W. Turner, and moves to his younger contemporary, the founding master of the American School, Thomas Cole, who was himself born in England. Cole fused elements of English Romanticism with classical and biblical symbolism to dramatize the passage of time and the impending influence of man upon this new land. A series of works by Frederic Edwin Church, a student of Cole and perhaps the most celebrated American landscapist of all, are literally awe-inspiring in both scale and execution. Breathtaking scenes of mountains and waterfalls, such as Rainy Season in the Tropics, have a nearly religious power over the viewer, inspiring wonder at the vastness of the land. Smaller, more intimate paintings by such masters as Martin Johnson Heade, John Frederick Kensett, and Fitz Hugh Lane depict beautiful sunlit meadows and the brooding coasts of New England. Large-scale works by Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt celebrate the grandeur of the Far West and the dramatic mountains of Colorado, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. (left: Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Shower, Newbury Marshes, c. 1866-76)

"This is probably the most ambitious exhibition shown by the Pennsylvania Academy in decades, and one of the grandest shows on 19th century America ever assembled," says Academy President and CEO Derek Gillman.

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