American Landscape Topic Subject of Lecture Series
"A Century of Landscape Painting" is the focus of the spring Fine Arts Lecture Series.
Three lectures, by Dr. Molly Gwinn, will explore the wonders of nature that attracted some of the most accomplished American artists of the 19th century.
The first lecture, "American Wilderness: Hudson River Landscapes by Thomas Cole," is scheduled for Thursday, March 13, at 10 a.m., at the Weymouth Center, located at 555 E. Connecticut Ave. in Southern Pines.
The series will highlight the work of Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, George Inness, and James McNeill Whistler, and will trace the changing attitudes toward nature expressed by these very different artists. In the course of the 19th century, artists shifted from a celebration of natural grandeur based on pride and optimism that the nation would fulfill its destiny to a mood of retreat.
The transformation of American society from an agrarian to a capitalist economy and from a rural to an urban culture created uneasiness among many who longed to return to the way things were. These changes caused artists and the public to view the natural world as a refuge from modernity and to treasure unspoiled landscapes.
For Cole, the Catskill Mountains represented the pristine wilderness or the ideal state of the New World before the intrusion of settlers, farms, and villages. His scenes of mountains and lakes in upstate New York would establish him as the founder of the first distinctly American school of painting, the Hudson River School. A moralizer and a romantic, Cole regarded nature as a living, holy place full of meaning and symbol. His lofty allegories about the future of America and the Voyage of Life were as important to artists and writers as his careful observations of natural phenomena.
Homer came of age as a national artist with the end of the Civil War. His view of the Maine coast celebrated the overpowering force of the sea, as well as the hardy fishermen who risked storms and tides for their daily catch. From his studio in Prout's Neck, Homer focused on capturing the elements of ocean, rocks, sky and cloud. The realism of his sea paintings conveys the physical experience of walking the shoreline and feeling the moisture of the spray, while the vastness of water and sky offers a glimpse of the transcendent.
Tonal painters, such as Inness and Whistler, were the lyric poets of nature artists because they painted not what they saw but how they felt about the scene before them. Inness' landscapes are autumnal in mood with their reduced palette of burnt hues, diffused light, and quiet subjects. Likewise, Whistler, the expatriate who always considered himself an American artist, was dedicated to simplifying color and composition to better translate the spirit of nature.
After presenting two popular lecture series on Impressionism and American artists in Paris, Gwinn returns to Weymouth to present the "Century of Landscape Painting" series. Gwinn earned her doctorate from Rutgers University and has taught art history at both Rutgers and New York Universities. She also served as the assistant manager of education at the Dallas Museum of Art.
The second lecture, "Reconstruction and Retreat: Stories from the Maine Coast by Winslow Homer," is scheduled for Thursday, March 27. The final lecture, "Visionary Landscapes: George Inness, James Whistler, and Alfred Stieglitz," will be presented on Thursday, April 17. The lectures begin at 10 a.m. at the Weymouth Center.
The Fine Arts Lecture Series is sponsored jointly by the Arts Council of Moore County and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities. The cost of each lecture is $10 for Arts Council and Weymouth members and $15 for nonmembers.
For more information about the fine art lecture series, call the Arts Council at (910) 692-4356.
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