Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas: The Iconology of Waterscapes in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Culture (American University Studies)
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The nineteenth century was the great age of landscape painting in Europe and America. In an era of rapid industrialization and transformation of landscape, pictures of natural scenes were what people wanted most to display in their homes. The most popular and marketable pictures, often degenerating into kitsch, showed a wilderness with a pond or a lake in which obtrusive signs of industry and civilization had been edited out.
Inspired by Romantic ideas of the uniqueness of the nation, pictorial and literary art was supposed to portray the «soul» of the nation and the spirit of place, a view commonly adopted by cultural and art historians on both sides of the Atlantic. Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas argues that nationalistic or exceptionalist interpretations disregard deep-rooted iconological traditions in transatlantic culture. Depictions and ideas of nature go back to the classical ideas of Arcadia and Eden in which fountains, ponds, lakes, rivers, and finally the sea itself are central elements. Following their European colleagues, American artists typically portrayed the American Arcadia through the classical conventions.
Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas adopts the interdisciplinary and comparative methodological perspectives that characterize American studies. The book draws on art history, cultural history, literature, and the study of the production and use of visual images, and will serve well as a textbook for courses on American studies or cultural history of the Western world.
a meadow surrounded by trees. In the foreground there is a small stream, which seems to come from a pond among the trees. It runs from left to right in the picture, making a little cascade on its way into the meadow. The half-hidden pond could serve as Eve’s mirror in which she first sees herself. In the background, hidden in haze and mist, we discern a towering mountain and a high waterfall cascading into a lake in front of it. In The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve are seen
would reflect the “soul” of the nation and the spirit of place. Paradoxically, this nationalistic view led many Europeans to see American nineteenth-century art as provincial and amateurish in its portrayal of the “spirit” of place because America was a hybrid of European culture. To compensate for this neglect, Americans themselves have generally adopted a nationalistic and exceptionalist perspective and have been eagerly seeking to identify and highlight the “Americanness” in American art. This
steamboat, the Clermont, first made its maiden voyage upstream in 1807, the Hudson was plowed by paddle steamers belching smoke, making noise, and creating landings and un-Arcadian commercial depots along its banks, a development that was immensely speeded up after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. In spite of the commercial and economic realities of the Hudson River Valley scene from the 1820s and onward, the Hudson River School painters studiously avoided the industry and commercialism
have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark—which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two—on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether
way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd’s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd’s eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him.”29 Neset-05.indd 104 11/6/2008 11:47:51 AM Sweet Water 105 A pastoral example of the theme can be seen in Asher Durand’s (1796–1886) Early Morning at Cold Spring, N.Y. (1850). Here the landscape