Permanent Collection: American Views November 4 2016 - October 30 2017
American art abounds in landscape images that shape our views of nature. The landscape paintings in the collection of the Parrish Art Museum trace the history of the genre in American art from the early-nineteenth-century birth of a national school to the era of contemporary artists, many of whom live and work on Long Island’s East End.
Artists coming of age in the 1860s were not convinced that the diligently composed structures and dramatic effects of Hudson River School landscapes were their only painting options. Samuel Colman and George Henry Smillie chose close-up studies of nature, taking a cue from the naturalistic observations in paint of the French Barbizon School. For most young Americans studying art in the decades after the Civil War, a trip to Europe for study was an imperative. As the young William Merritt Chase exclaimed to the St. Louis businessmen who raised $2,100 for him to study abroad in the 1870s, “My God, I’d rather go to Europe than go to heaven!”
By the end of the nineteenth century, to be modern as an artist often meant to be concerned more with conveying internal emotions than with transmitting objective facts about the world. For Martin Johnson Heade, the depiction of the effects of light on water, especially the coastal salt marshes of New England and the swamps of Florida, was a consuming study and he and other painters who pursued this style became known as Luminists. American artists like John Henry Twachtman and Childe Hassam looked to the French Impressionists, especially Monet, for a brighter palette and more vibrant brushwork yet chose thoroughly American subjects like Niagara Falls.
In the early 1900s, Edith Prellwitz with her husband Henry, along with Irving Ramsey Wiles, formed their own small colony on Long Island’s North Fork in Peconic. Works by Sheridan Lord, Fairfield Porter, and Robert Dash are open-ended views of the landscape in the places where they live: Lord in Sagaponack, Porter at his family’s summer home in Maine, and Dash on Sagg Pond, all luminously depicted. In her paintings, April Gornik has wagered that scale plays a significant role in the way a painting affects the viewer. “I hope that when people are standing in front of the work, they’ll feel the physicality of the painting…its temperature, its humidity, its air.”