Wearing a straw hat and a crisp, white shirt, a farmer walks away from his cottage in George Inness’ 1879 painting “The Coming Storm.” The farmer grasps a large pitchfork, while lush green trees flank his house and cast a shadow over the cows that are grazing on a pale meadow in the background. A murky blue-gray tint stains the sky, ominously hinting at an impending storm. “The Coming Storm” is now on display in “Heaven and Earth,” a new exhibition at the Addison Gallery of American Art.
Spanning five galleries, “Heaven and Earth” was curated by Judith Dolkart, the Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director of the Addison Gallery. The first gallery of the exhibit displays several landscapes, while each of the other rooms revolve around central themes of the artwork: water, light, trees and the finite and the infinite. The works in the exhibition all come from the Addison’s permanent collection and depict both literal and imagined elements of nature.
“I’ve long been interested in the way in which painters respond to the landscape and the way in which sometimes they depict it in a very objective way as what they see, but also sometimes in a way where it could be very suggestive as if it’s seen through the lens of aspiration or a kind of ideal. This show is called ‘Heaven and Earth’ because sometimes we see the landscape as a kind of Heaven on Earth,” said Dolkart.
One of the pieces in the exhibit is “Monadnock Angel,” Abbott Henderson Thayer’s depiction of an angel with white feathered wings wearing a flowing white dress. The angel stares out of the canvas with a serene expression while her hands extend downwards to protect Mount Monadnock behind her.
“Thayer has a very important relationship with Mount Monadnock. It was a kind of touchdown for him and also imputed with a kind of mystical quality, so he creates this allegory of this angel of Mount Monadnock,” said Dolkart, “I thought that [‘Monadnock Angel’] was a good jumping off point for the exhibition in the sense that there are certain subjects that artists return to over and over again, and Monadnock was one of them for Thayer, in which he invested in a kind of spiritual kind of importance.”
Also featured in the exhibition is Washington Allston’s 1805 “Italian Landscape.” The oil painting shows a bearded man wrapped in a brown toga supporting himself with a stick. Two girls with their hair wrapped in white cloth kneel next to the man, picking up rocks and putting them in straw baskets. Grand Roman buildings sit in the background with their reflections glistening in a lake behind the three humans.
“One of the things American artists, such as Washington Allston, did as they trained was go to Europe. There they learned how to become artists by studying with other artists in the academies,” said Dolkart,
“One of the things I like about paintings like [‘Italian Landscape’] is when artists were making them, they would go out into the landscape and make a sketch of this tree or that building or that river and then they would take [the sketches and] put all of those elements together in a landscape that was kind of imagined and ideal.”
“Landscape with Indian and Dog by a Waterfall,” a 19th century oil painting by George Loring Brown is also in the exhibit. In the bottom right of the canvas, a Native American man holds a bow and arrow while balancing on a steep hill. His arrow points toward a shimmering waterfall, at which a white dog gazes. Beyond the waterfall looms a high mountain painted in grey, purple and white hues.
“I think that artists [such as Brown] are often depicting nature and displaying the notion of people in harmony with nature, with the trees, the landscape and the species. And given that Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the North American landscape that we know of, in ‘Landscape with Indian and Dog by a Waterfall,’ there is this notion of showing the original occupants of the land in harmony with it,” said Dolkart.
“Heaven and Earth” is on display until April 5, 2015.