Interpretations of the landscape were a significant focus of nineteenth-century American art, and reports from geological surveys across the Western territories drove the need for views of an unseen landscape. Artists such as Thomas Moran, who traveled with one of the surveys and produced monumental landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, noted a need to both precisely render what he was seeing, yet also capture the emotional impact of the view, which he termed “the atmosphere.” This line of thought was present throughout nineteenth-century landscapes, where artists sought to depict observed nature while embracing more atmospheric and tonal effects to heighten the emotional impact of the work.
Painting and photography unite in their attempt to evoke both the past and present through atmospheric effect. George Hawley Hallowell’s turn-of-the-twentieth century painted landscapes become emotionally turbulent through the artist’s use of color and pattern. Vibrant purples, pinks, and blues are juxtaposed with patches of light and dark, showing the artist’s interest in tonalism and symbolism. Decades later, the photographs of John Brook render a similar atmospheric visual effect. Brook’s color abstractions reflect his need to infuse his photographs with both a sense of design and spontaneity. His work often straddled figuration and abstraction, with an emotional tone permeating throughout.
Evoking a mood through tonal effects remains a hallmark of contemporary photography, where the sense of capturing a distant memory is made visual through deft use of light and shadow. Depictions of the landscape have always fluctuated between faithful representation and an imagined sublime. Edgar Allan Poe’s assertion that the invention of photography was “the most important, and perhaps the most extraordinary triumph of modern science,” while also deeming the accuracy of the photographic image “miraculous” and magical, underscore the mercurial nature of the medium. Danforth Art is continually building its collection in order to more fully draw connections between media, unite the historical and contemporary, and understand their shared history.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.