Frederic Edwin Church,
South american landscape, 1856,
oil on canvas, 59,5 x 92


The present exhibition aims to show this process through three tematics groupings, devoted to the painting of the Low Countries, and nineteenth-century North American and European painting.

It was the artists of seventeenth-century Holland who initiated pictorial naturalism. In their desire to represent their surrounding in a life-like manner, they made numerous sketches and studies out of doors. Later, back in the studio, they would reinterpret these, using them as the basis for fully worked-out and highly finished compositions. Rather than remaining faithful to a particular reality, the landscapes and urban views of artists like Van Goyen, Ruysdael, De Witte and Van der Neer express the prosperity of the young Dutch nation and capture the spectator’s religious feelings through making the landscape monumental, using light in a symbolic way, painting broad skies, and so on. In a similar way the genre scenes of Steen, De Hooch And Vrel contain a markedly moralising content. A similar tension between realism and symbolic intent is to be found in the work of artists like Crespi, Piazzetta and Goya working in the next century.

The North American artists of the nineteenth century, did not hesitate to make landscape the leading pictorial genre, convinced that the American people had been granted the enjoyment of a idyllic land. Science art and religion, each in its way, shared a common aim: to reveal the secrets of the Sacred Book of a nature uncorrupted by civilisation, in contrast to that of Europe. Such ideas are to be found in the work of artists such as Church, Bierstadt and Kensett, whose oils share an almost scientific approach to nature (in their focus on the most minute detail) with the expression of it sanctity (in this case, through the use of baroque rhetoric). The sacredness of the landscape, characteristic of North American painting until the end of the nineteenth century, is also to be found in the Luminist paintings of Heade, Richards, Jones and Hart, all heirs of the tradition of seventeenth century Dutch painting, whose works exude a silence and mysticism in their glowing lighting effects, their immobility and the strict arrangement of the elements within the compositions.