Thomas Cole
Moon and firelight, c.1828

Oil on cavas
91,3  x 121,8 cm.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

         "Exploring Eden" is an exhibition which looks at 19th-century American Landscape painting, a chapter of art history which is very little known in Europe despite the important contribution which it made to the tradition of landscape painting in the west. The exhibition, which is structured chronologically from Romanticism to Realism, begins with the figure of Thomas Cole, the father of North American landscape painters, and ends with Winslow Homer, a painter whose work heralds the beginnings of modern art.

         The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is one of the few European museums that possesses a large group of Nineteenth-century, North American paintings. In the museum's rooms, the visitor can see a group of works, both from the permanent collection (formerly the private collection of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza), as well as works from the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, on loan to the Museum, allowing for an appreciation of this school within the context of European painting. With the present exhibition, the Museum has aimed to provide the public with more information about this field of art.

         The exhibition's itinerary starts with the work of Thomas Cole, considered in his day the father of American landscape painting. In addition to a view of a real place, "The Kaaterskill Falls", the exhibition includes "Expulsion. Moon and Firelight" from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum's permanent collection, and the cycle "The Journey of Life", from the National Gallery, Washington, the latter a Romantic metaphor of life as a journey, presented through a series of landscapes which are part real, part imaginary. Cole upheld the idea of the direct contemplation of nature, but also the importance of conveying a spiritual and moral content in his paintings. He therefore developed a type of allegorical landscape that falls within the tradition of European Romanticism.

         Cole's followers, the painters of the Hudson River School, who began to paint in the years following American Independence, were the artists who definitively established American painting as a separate school, and who broke away from the influence of English art which had until then predominated. The celebration of the American natural world and its depiction as a sort of earthly Paradise and a virgin land undefiled by any trace of Man, became widespread and established itself as the best way of expressing growing American, nationalist sentiment. The exhibition includes views of the landscape along the banks of the Hudson River. Artists went there to make sketches which they would later work up into finished canvases in the studio. Among the members of the school, Asher B. Durand stands out as the leading exponent of direct observation of nature. His sketches made outdoors, on show here, are surprising for their modern and spontaneous qualities, making Durand a true pioneer of plein air painting.

          The pictorial representation of the spirituality of nature achieved its maximum expression in the style of painting known as Luminism. In the paintings by Kensett, Heade, Lane and Suydam, the simplification of form, the refined and highly detailed technique, the delicate tonal variations and the luminosity which these paintings exude, all take on a spiritual significance.

         After these small and tranquil Luminist paintings, the exhibition moves on to show a group of works inspired by travel to the remote and unexplored American West and to the Tropics. The impression which these locations had on artists such as Bierstadt and Church and the remarkable landscapes which they saw in these remote areas are reflected in a series of large-scale views of limitless terrain, painted with the aim of celebrating the marvels of the New World.

        The exhibition closes with a room devoted to a group of oils and watercolours by Winslow Homer, a Realist artist who, in contrast to his predecessors, was no longer interested in capturing the spirituality or the moral values of the American landscape, but rather in its formal, pictorial ones. His works, which represent a profound reflection on nature and its relationship with Man, open the way towards a vision of the modern world.


Title: Exploring Eden. 19th Century American Landscape painting
Dates: 29 September 2000 to 14 January 2001
Organisor: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Sponsored by: Bancaja
Curator: Tomàs Llorens, Chief Curator of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Co-ordination: Paloma Alarcó, Curator of Modern Paintings of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Venue: Temporary Exhibition Rooms. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 19.00. Ticket office closes at 18.30. Open all day Sundays. Closed Mondays
Entrance charges: Temporary Exhibition: 500 ptas; Reduced price: 300 ptas (students and visitors aged over 65 with proof of status) Temporary Exhibition and Permanent Collection: 900 ptas; Reduced price: 500 ptas (students and visitors aged over 65 with proof of status)

Thomas Cole
The Voyage of Life: Youth, 1842

Oil on canvas
134,3  x 194,9 cm.

National Gallery of Art

John F. Kensett
Lake George, Free Study, 1872

Oil on canvas
25,4  x 35,9 cm.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nueva York


Fitz Hugh Lane
Brace´s Rock, 1864

Oil on canvas
25,4  x 38,2 cm.

Colección Mr. y Mrs. Harold Bell

Albert Bierstadt
The Falls of Saint Anthony, 1880-1887

Oil on canvas
96,8  x 153,7cm.

Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

Frederic E. Churh
Trees in Jamaica, West Indies, 1865

Oil on cardboard
30,3  x 50,7 cm.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Smithsonian Institution, Nueva York.
Wislow Homer
The West Wind, 1891

Oil on canvas
76,2  x 111,8 cm

Addison Gallery of American Art Phillips Academy
Andover, Massachusetts