In the late 19th century America was experiencing a time of great change and revolution. Advancements in manufacturing were made and this brought about a change in the life style of Americans, but also in the land scape of America. For many artists at this time it became increasingly important to capture what was left of a changing land scape, that many felt was historically significant. For some artists, this meant focusing on a key aspect of the American landscape. Which at the time, had yet to be affected by the rise of manufacturing facilities. Artists such as Asher Brown Durand, Thomas Cole and Jasper Francis Cropsey wanted to capture the essence of the changing American landscape in their paintings, in hopes that people would never forget the once great American wilderness. Specifically, as seen in Thomas Cole’s The Oxbow, this meant representing not only the beauty of the landscape, but also the possibility of change and how this change would ultimately effect that landscape. Although not all landscape paintings at this time were as symbolic as Cole’s, many of them were still used to provide a window for the view into the ever changing American landscape. Today, viewers are still able to view the beauty that these artists sought to preserve through their timeless works of the Great American Landscape.
Asher Brown Durand, The Breeches, 1845
Oil on Canvas, 15.30.59
Asher Brown Durand, Landscape—Scene from "Thanatopsis", 1850
Oil on Canvas, 11.156
Here, we again see Asher Brown Durand's use of soft hues to communicate an essence of a simpler time. Although this scene is not as personal as The Breeches, Durand once again create a scene that has yet to show any signs that it is effected by mechanical advancements. This mountainous landscape appears almost ageless and unchanging, a fortress of strength against anything that could affect it. Similar to Thomas Cole's The Oxbow, this scene encapsulates a gentleness juxtaposed with an unknown strength.
Asher Brown Durand, High Point: Shandaken Mountains, 1853
Oil on Canvas, 77.3.1
This last piece by Asher Brown Durand is once again setting the stage for what is to come. Durand focuses on some of the simpler aspects of American culture at the time and place. His paintings often depict farmers, and other symbols of what life was like for someone living in the American wilderness. This painting however is different from The Breeches, and Landscape—Scene from "Thanatopsis" in the way that Durand has treated the colors and how it is no longer as soft and as fair as the first two.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, The Valley of Wyoming, 1865
Oil on Canvas, 66.113
The Valley of Wyoming by Jasper Francis Cropsey, is another painting that depicts the American landscape in a time of change. Different from the work of Asher Brown Durand, Cropsey includes evidence of change in his painting. The scene shows farm land, houses and even what appears to be smoke rising out of the distance. Here we see some of the first signs of change and revolution in the American landscape as people begin to move into the country side and populate a once untouched wilderness.
Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836
Oil on Canvas, 08.228
Although The Oxbow was painted a few years a head of many of the other works, it is perhaps the work with the most disguised symbolism. The powerful juxtaposition of storm clouds and as untamed wilderness against a simple countryside have helped communicate the sense of impending danger. It is well known that Cole was a lover of the American wilderness and the outdoors, and because of this many Art Historians have interpreted this painting as being a warning of the danger that the mechanical revolution will bring to the Great American Wilderness.