American artists Albert Bierstadt
Albert Bierstadt, American (1830–1902), “Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite,” ca. 1871–73, oil on canvas. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest) and various donors, by exchange.

Works by leading American artists reveal how human impact on the planet over the last three centuries compels us to reconsider the relationships between art, the environment, and ourselves.

From the organizers:
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents an exhibition of more than 100 works by American artists from the 18th century through the present day that explores evolving ideas about the environment and our place within it.

American artists Thomas Cole painting
Thomas Cole, American (1801–1848), “A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch),” 1839, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Fund.

“Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment” features major paintings, photographs, works on paper, and sculpture drawn from museum and private collections around the country by artists such as Ansel Adams, John James Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, Dorothea Lange, Kent Monkman (Cree), Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob August Riis, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish-Kootenai), and Andrew Wyeth.

American artists David Gilmour Blythe
David Gilmour Blythe, American (1815–1865), “Prospecting/Bullcreek City,” ca. 1861–63, oil on canvas. Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Bequest of Richard M. Scaife.

This is the first exhibition to examine how American and Native American artists have reflected and shaped our understanding of the environment over the last 300 years, from deeply held perspectives of interconnected ties to the universe to colonial beliefs that imagine nature as a hierarchy of species with men at the top, and also the modern emergence of ecological ethics.

American artists Georgia Okeeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, American (1887–1986), “The Lawrence Tree,” 1929, oil on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum.

This timely exhibition opens on the heels of landmark reports from the United Nations and the White House that underscore the dire and impending consequences of climate change. Both conclude humans’ activities are having a dangerous impact on the environment and, as a result, there is an extreme risk of irreversibly affecting all human, built, and natural systems. It is critical to our time to acknowledge that humans, animals, water, land, and sky are all connected.

American artists Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer, American (1836–1910), “A Huntsman and Dogs,” 1891, oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art: The William L. Elkins Collection, 1924.

“Nature’s Nation” reconsiders American and Native American art within the context of environmental history and the study of living things’ relation to their surroundings. The exhibition highlights shifting visions and realities of nature as artists reflect and shape societal attitudes toward the natural world. As perspectives emerge, we are learning anew that the natural world is not a fixed concept but dynamic reality.

Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment” is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA) from through May 5, 2019.


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