It was quiet in the galleries last September as I took a final walk through the Wadsworth Atheneum before the grand unveiling of our eight-year project to bring back its glories. I wondered how our members, patrons, the press, and the public would respond to all that we have done here. It has been a long haul, full of ups and downs in the economically stressed city of Hartford, Connecticut, as we renovated and upgraded the museum’s aged buildings so that its world-class collections could be reinstalled.
Landscape painting in all the Americas, a touring exhibition and an inquiry Artistic representation of human interaction with the land has a long history in the Americas. It spans more than thirty thousand years, from the earthworks and pictographs of ancient indigenous cultures to the land art of the 1960s and 1970s to contemporary photographs of the terrible beauty of environmental destruction. It was during the early years of the nineteenth century, as emerging settler nations across the hemisphere gained and asserted their independence, that landscape painting began to forge a broader vision of the Americas. Artists seeking to respond to and depict distinctive topographies and natural wonders produced unique pictorial representations that nonetheless shared an ideological and aesthetic orientation to the land, as well as artistic techniques for depicting it.
In one of his most famous works, the esteemed art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner sought to define “The Englishness of English Art.” If anyone were to under take a comparable inquiry into the Danishness of Danish art, the painter Vilhelm Hammershøi could well stand as the palmary embodiment of the thing in question. His small, reticent, manically controlled paintings achieve that prim order, that almost morbid inwardness, that foreigners, at least, are apt to associate with the land of Hamlet and Kierkegaard.
Julia Margaret Cameron was almost twenty-four when Louis-Jacques-Mondé Daguerre announced the invention of photography at the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1839. But it wasn’t until she was forty-eight—another lifetime later—that she would fully take up the medium herself. The catalyst was a Christmas gift from her daughter Julia and Julia’s husband in 1863.