At Work in the Wilderness: Picturing the American Landscape, 1820-1920

January 14, 2011 - March 20, 2011

Lake and mountain

At Work in the Wilderness examines how American landscape painting of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries embodied Americans’ conflicting ideas about the status of land and the natural world within the rapidly modernizing nation. The exhibition considers the strategies that American artists developed to reframe the natural spaces in which they worked — spaces that were rapidly developing, that were increasingly familiar to period audiences, and that were thoroughly implicated in period circuits of landscape travel and tourism. Seen together, the works on view illuminate the complex relationship between humans and nature through examples of “touched” and “untouched” landscapes.

Artists in At Work in the Wilderness include Thomas Birch, Thomas Doughty, Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt, Robert Duncanson, Jervis McEntee, Albert Blakelock, William Trost Richards, Eastman Johnson, William Boardman, Elliott Daingerfield, George Bellows, and others.

An accompanying audio tour — with selections from artists’ letters, poetry, and philosophers of the period — presents a range of nineteenth-century ideas about landscape.

The exhibition was organized by guest curator Ross Barrett, Assistant Professor and David G. Frey Fellow in American Art, Art Department, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was assisted by Annah Lee, Eaton Curatorial Intern for American Art, and the students in his Fall 2010 seminar in American art.

At Work in the Wilderness was made possible by the generous support of David G. Frey, the William Hayes Ackland Trust, and friends of the Ackland Art Museum. Special thanks to the North Carolina Museum of Art and Hugh A. McAllister Jr., MD (UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, ’66) for their generous loans to this exhibition.

Image Credit: Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902, Blue Mountain and Lake, 1857-62, oil on paper, mounted on board, Gift of Charles Tate, 94.14.