Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape
Four-Venue National Tour Begins December 23 at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida
New York, NY (August 4, 2014) — The American Federation of Arts (AFA) is pleased to announce the four-venue tour of Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape, organized in collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales. This is the second time the AFA has partnered with National Museum Wales, following the highly successful North American tour of Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales. AFA Director Pauline Willis stated, “It has been an absolute pleasure to once again partner with National Museum Wales. Their collection includes many stunning masterpieces of landscape painting, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to present this exhibition to North American audiences.”
The British passion for landscape—evident in the literary works of Milton, Shakespeare, and even Chaucer—began to dominate the visual arts at the time of the Industrial Revolution. In 1804, the poet William Blake wrote of both “England’s green and pleasant land” and the “dark satanic mills” of its burgeoning cities. Beginning in Britain in the late eighteenth century and spreading throughout the world, the Industrial Revolution irrevocably
changed the course of human history, affecting every aspect of culture from the economy to social relations. During this time, Britain saw a shift away from a primarily agrarian, rural way of life; paradoxically, this spurred the development of landscape painting as a flourishing, independent genre, which, through its focus on man’s place in nature, shed light on these ongoing social and environmental changes. Showcasing more than 60 masterpieces from the collection of National Museum Wales, the exhibition offers new insights into the importance and role of landscape painting during this time of rapid change, both in Wales and throughout Great Britain.
Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape will travel to four venues:
• Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (December 23, 2014–April 5, 2015)
• Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh (May 7–August 2, 2015)
• Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City (August 27–December 13, 2015)
• Princeton University Art Museum (January 23–April 24, 2016)
Broadly chronological, the exhibition is divided into six thematic sections, unfolding a story that runs from the Industrial Revolution through the eras that saw the emergence of Romanticism, Impressionism, and Modernism, to the postmodern and postindustrial present.
The first section, Classical Visions and Picturesque Prospects, explores the seventeenth-century origins of landscape painting, including works by two of the fathers of the genre, Claude and Salvator Rosa, along with some distinctly British responses. Claude’s measured classicism had worthy emulators in the next century’s artists, among them Joseph Wright of Derby and Richard Wilson. Wright’s The Lake of Albano (1790) captures the evening light of the Mediterranean and introduces an important sub-theme running through the exhibition: that of British artists traveling abroad in search of compelling landscape subjects.
Watercolor, a medium previously used mainly for preparatory works, came into its own with the rise of landscape as artists increasingly valued the spontaneity of sketches made on the spot. Thomas Gainsborough, famous for his fashionable portraits, often remarked that he preferred the more contemplative art of landscape painting. Rocky Wooded Landscape with Rustic Lovers, Herdsman, and Cows (1771–74) is one of his finest works in the genre, with subtle and luminous layers of paint freely applied to create the feeling of a perfect afternoon in the country, an idyll of young love and rural simplicity. This section also considers the practical challenges facing artists who sought to paint directly from nature.
At the heart of the section Turner and the Sublime are two major oil paintings by the artist, often described as “the painter of light.” The Storm (1840–45) and The Morning after the Wreck (ca. 1840) remind the viewer of the futility of human endeavor in the face of nature’s awesome power. In these and other canvases from the 1840s, Turner evolved an esoteric visual language that prefigured many later developments in art, from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism, an artistic movement also associated with the sublime. Additionally, visitors will have an opportunity to examine Turner’s myriad watercolor techniques, which he employed with astonishing prowess.
Truth to Nature focuses on the British interest in the direct and detailed depiction of the natural world. In the celebrated A Cottage in a Cornfield (1817), John Constable pays tribute to his native East Anglia, finding poetry in the details of rural scenery and capturing with uncanny exactitude momentary shifts in the cloudscape of Suffolk. The 1840s saw the emergence of photography, and soon the accuracy of representations provided by the camera—the “pencil of nature”—became a powerful stimulus to landscape artists. Artists viewed the world with a new precision, bringing scientific objectivity to their compositions. This remained a feature of British art well into the twentieth century, as Stanley Spencer’s vivid Snowdon from Llanfrothen (1938) attests.
Picturing Modernity looks at artistic depictions of the changing landscape in tandem with the growth of cities, revealing new ways of life experienced by an increasingly urbanized population. From the earliest days of industrialization, artists such as Paul Sandby and John “Warwick” Smith were captivated by the strange and unprecedented world of machinery and mining, iron forging, and textile manufacturing, which were the basis of Britain’s prosperity. Cardiff had become a major industrial and port city by the mid-nineteenth century, and remains so today. Lionel Walden’s dramatic Steelworks, Cardiff, at Night (1893–97) suggests the darker side of this transformation: it shows smokestacks glowing an infernal red as rails glint menacingly in the foreground. Straightforward documentary paintings—sometimes depicting the views from the windows of artists' studios—convey the marvelous spectacle of the metropolis. This celebration of modernity continued into the twentieth century, with works like Viennese Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka’s powerful depiction of the Thames in London, Waterloo Bridge (1926).
During a period of enforced exile in England precipitated by the Franco-Prussian War, Claude Monet made the Thames his own. Included in the section Monet and Impressions of Britain, The Pool of London (1871) captures with remarkable boldness the gray tonalities and surging energy of one of the busiest ports in the world, a great hub of commercial activity. After returning to London in 1899, Monet painted the visionary Charing Cross Bridge (1902) from a fifth-floor balcony at the Savoy Hotel. He was a great admirer of London’s fogs, the result of industrial pollution, and his swift brushwork mimics the scudding movement of the clouds and the smoke of a train crossing Hungerford Bridge.
With the foreboding international climate of the 1930s, landscape came to symbolize all that was valuable in British culture. A group led by Graham Sutherland and John Piper espoused Neo-Romanticism, a return to the traditional picturesque subjects of Constable and Turner inflected by the experience of modernism. The resulting work was often brooding in tone. The section Neo-Romantic to Post-Modern looks at this movement, which eventually led to the new landscape art that came with the rise of modern environmentalism. The conceptual land artist Richard Long documents in his work lengthy walks—excursions in the landscape that are the modern descendants of the picturesque tour. Through an ongoing series of drawings, photographs, and sculpture, David Nash has chronicled the growth of a group of trees, the Ash Dome, which he planted at Ffestiniog in Wales in 1977. His work is an intervention in the landscape as well as a powerful statement against deforestation, harking back, ultimately, to the rural world that preceded the industrial era. With these haunting works, landscape art has come full circle.
Exhibition Credit Line
This exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales.
The exhibition tour and catalogue are generously supported by the JFM Foundation, Mrs. Donald M. Cox, and the Marc Fitch Fund. In-kind support is provided by Barbara and Richard S. Lane and Christie’s.
Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, and Oliver Fairclough, Keeper of Art at Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales.
The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue includes major essays by curators Tim Barringer and Oliver Fairclough addressing such subjects as the picturesque and the sublime, cultural geography, collectors and changing taste, the relationship between art and industry, and environmentalism. In addition, the catalogue includes extensive entries on each of the works in the exhibition.
American Federation of Arts
The American Federation of Arts is a nonprofit institution, dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts, that organizes art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishes exhibition catalogues, and develops educational programs.
Current and upcoming AFA exhibitions include Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums; Matisse as Printmaker: Works from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation; Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection; Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa; Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture; and Not for Pleasure Alone: Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900. For more information about the AFA, visit www.afaweb.org.
National Museum Wales
National Museum Wales was established by Royal Charter in 1907. Today, the organization runs seven national museums in Wales and is known as Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales. Amgueddfa Cymru’s art collections, held at Cardiff, encompass both the fine and applied arts, from antiquity to the present. The museum has Old Master paintings of exceptional quality, a rich collection of British art, outstanding ceramics and silver, and a print room collection with more than thirty-two thousand works on paper.
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