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20th Century American Landscape Painting

The wild, expansive and beautiful American landscape has been an inspiration for artists since the earliest indigenous peoples of the Americas settled here.  Influenced by their predecessors in the Hudson River School and their European peers, American painters at the turn of the 20th century worked within the confines of traditional landscape painting. The American landscape was a seemingly limitless opportunity for artistic exploration, representing a large expanse of untouched natural beauty. Glorifying nature in the style of 19th century European Romanticism, the Hudson River School exemplified American Romantic painting, thematically reflecting concepts that related to the continued expansion of our young country in representations of discovery, exploration and settlement. Also influenced by the French Impressionists, American painters circa 1900 began looking at form and color in a more blurred way, moving away from a traditional horizon line and the literal representation of nature  towards a more symbolic and interpretive style.

Lot 405

The April Fine Sale offers several fine examples of 20th Century American Landscape painting. Thomas Moran’s A Cloudy Day, East Hampton, circa 1903, shows a Romantic view of East Hampton, NY where the artist lived, now the home of the Thomas Moran House, a national Historic Landmark. Moran was part of the Hudson River School and made his name in 1871 when he joined the Hayden Geological Survey in their exploration of the Yellowstone region in California. Moran’s experience in the West and his representation of the Western landscape were critical to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. His monumental paintings of the Grand Canyon are central to the cannon of American Landscape painting and speak to a very American way of looking at the world. A Cloudy Day, East Hampton is a more intimate subject, but one that also shows Moran’s ability to infuse a traditional composition with a specific choice of place. His use of color and brush technique show the lasting influence that J.M.W. Turner had on Moran.

Lot 406

The Western landscape was of particular interest to American painters in the early half of the 20th century. Rugged mountain and arid dessert landscapes show the hardship and desolation faced by those who travelled west as part of the Westward Expasion. Everett Spruce’s Dessert Plants, from 1946, is an example of this type of imagery. Spruce grew up in Arkansas and was part of a group of regionalist painters in Texas in the 1930s whose work reflected their love of the land and the landscapes of the West. He worked in an Expressionist style, striving to evoke sentiment in response to a  scene rather than representing it realistically. In this way, his work follows that of other Americans painting at this time who melded their love of the American landscape with new, modern ideas about color, form and abstraction.

Lot 418, Lot 417

Another example of a modernist view of the American West is Arthur Meltzer’s Mt. Slide, Nevada. Meltzer is best known for his work in Pennsylvania where he spent most of his life and career as a widely acclaimed landscape painter. In this view of the Nevada landscape we see stylistic differences from the Impressionist-influenced scenes he painted of rural Bucks County, PA.  The flattened perspective and minimalist brushwork suggest a more modern view of a less populated and more remote location.

Lot 419, and a current photograph of the Asgaard Farm & Dairy in Au Sable Forks, NY.

New York-native Rockwell Kent pushed rugged and remote landscapes in this country and beyond. After studying at William Merritt Chase’s art school on Long Island, Kent studied with Robert Henri, George Bellows and Edward Hopper before leaving on a number of extended trips to remote locations where he found visual inspiration. He developed a stark, Realist style that illuminated the harsh and subtle beauty of these landscapes. Kent’s View at Asgaard, painted in 1945, is a luminous view of his farm in the Adirondack Mountains. The wilderness of the Adirondacks provided endless inspiration and a refuge for Kent for over forty years, exemplified in this painting which honors one of America’s most beautiful and dramatic landscapes.

Realist painter Fairfield Porter also depicted landscape scenes of places he lived. Working in a representational style at the height of Abstract Expressionism in mid-century New York, Porter insisted on the authenticity of his subjects rather than the ideology of abstraction. He was influenced by the French Nabis painters and their palette and sense of form can be seen in his 1962 painting April. Porter believed that Realism and Abstraction maintained a close relationship, and that one needed the other in order to be successful. In this small gem of a painting we see Porter’s understanding of gestural abstraction as applied to a realist composition, and we can see how his work would influence the younger American figurative painters who would follow in the 1970s.

Lot 425

Other American landscape views in this sale include Doel Reed, Southwestern Scene (Lot 415), William P. Silva, Tuscan Desert (Lot 416), Walter Baum, Snowy Landscape (Lot 421), Clara Kretzinger, The Tidal Basin, Lincoln Memorial (Lot 422), Ernest Parton, Landscape (Lot 423), Walter Koeninger, Early Autumn (Lot 424), and Margaret Patterson, Summer Clouds (Lot 436), Coast Cedars (Lot 437), and Flatlands (Lot 438).

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