Over time, some idealistic landscape images become central to a culture’s definition of itself. These archetypal icons are so ingrained in national identity that successive generations accept them and their cultural importance without question.

During the twentieth century, changes in social, political, and economic spheres have altered North American worldviews. As a result, interpretation of some iconic landscapes has shifted. For example, a place that was considered a natural wonder a century ago may now be considered a tourist trap - two very different interpretations. These landscapes remain loaded with meaning, except the meaning has changed. What was once a serious cultural icon may be transformed by shifting social values into a cultural stereotype.
Over time, some idealistic landscape images become central to a culture’s definition of itself. These archetypal icons are so ingrained in national identity that successive generations accept them and their cultural importance without question.

During the twentieth century, changes in social, political, and economic spheres have altered North American worldviews. As a result, interpretation of some iconic landscapes has shifted. For example, a place that was considered a natural wonder a century ago may now be considered a tourist trap - two very different interpretations. These landscapes remain loaded with meaning, except the meaning has changed. What was once a serious cultural icon may be transformed by shifting social values into a cultural stereotype.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Fuentes Brotantes

Fuentes Brotantes (Fuentes Brotantes Park)

Joaquín Clausell (1866 - 1935)
National Museum of Art. INBA. CONACULTA
1910 - 1920
MEXICO
oil on canvas
© National Museum of Art. INBA. CONACULTA


The novel aspect of Clausell's works lies not only in his use of a technique with certain Impressionistic associations, but above all in his search for new localities to represent the Mexican landscape, as an alternative to the already worn cliché of the volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Small villages such as Tlalpan, Santa Anita, Ixtacalco and Xochimilco were chosen by the landscape artists of the first and second decades of the 20th century. Devoid of human figures, this recreation of small areas or spots relates to end-of-century ideas of Symbolist inspiration in that it reflects the interest in returning to the countryside and nature.
The novel aspect of Clausell's works lies not only in his use of a technique with certain Impressionistic associations, but above all in his search for new localities to represent the Mexican landscape, as an alternative to the already worn cliché of the volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Small villages such as Tlalpan, Santa Anita, Ixtacalco and Xochimilco were chosen by the landscape artists of the first and second decades of the 20th century. Devoid of human figures, this recreation of small areas or spots relates to end-of-century ideas of Symbolist inspiration in that it reflects the interest in returning to the countryside and nature.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Garita de la Viga

Garita de la Viga (Customs Gate on the Viga Canal)

Ernst Wardsworth Longfellow (1845 - 1921)
Colección de Arte of the Banco Nacional de México, S.A.
Date ?
MEXICO
oil on wood
39.00 X 57.00 cm
© Banco Nacional de México, S.A.


Ernst Wardsworth Longfellow, a native of New England, was in Paris in 1865, where he was in contact with the open-air Barbizon schools. We do not know when he arrived in Mexico, where he left for us this painting of the Viga Canal, depicting the daily routine of the populace--almost all dressed in white-- busy transporting foodstuffs from Xochimilco and Chalco on their punts. The "Garitas" were the entry gates into the city, the place where customs duties were paid for bringing products into the city.
Ernst Wardsworth Longfellow, a native of New England, was in Paris in 1865, where he was in contact with the open-air Barbizon schools. We do not know when he arrived in Mexico, where he left for us this painting of the Viga Canal, depicting the daily routine of the populace--almost all dressed in white-- busy transporting foodstuffs from Xochimilco and Chalco on their punts. The "Garitas" were the entry gates into the city, the place where customs duties were paid for bringing products into the city.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Canal de Tláhuac con el Iztaccíhuatl al fondo

Canal de Tláhuac con el Iztaccíhuatl al fondo (The Tlahuac Canal with the Iztaccihuatl Volcano in the Distance)

Hugo Brehme (1882 - 1954)
Sistema Nacional de Fototecas del INAH. Fototeca de Pachuca
1910 - 1920
MEXICO
photograph on paper
21.00 X 15.00 cm
© Sistema Nacional de Fototecas del INAH. Fototeca de Pachuca


The afternoon light revealed through the shadow of the young oarsman serves as a pretext for bringing together in a single scene a number of defining elements of the countryside around the Valley of Mexico, which are: the archetypal, white-clad aboriginal person, the Tlahuac canal, the snowy slopes of Iztaccihuatl, and the Mexican willow trees typical of the canals in the south of the city. The depiction of these elements and their elevation to mythical status sprang from the need, in the years following the Revolution, to struggle against the established paradigm, that of Western culture. Mexican identity was thus forged in images which later degenerated into banal stereotypes.
The afternoon light revealed through the shadow of the young oarsman serves as a pretext for bringing together in a single scene a number of defining elements of the countryside around the Valley of Mexico, which are: the archetypal, white-clad aboriginal person, the Tlahuac canal, the snowy slopes of Iztaccihuatl, and the Mexican willow trees typical of the canals in the south of the city. The depiction of these elements and their elevation to mythical status sprang from the need, in the years following the Revolution, to struggle against the established paradigm, that of Western culture. Mexican identity was thus forged in images which later degenerated into banal stereotypes.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Xochimilco

Xochimilco

Gabriel Figueroa (1907 - 1997)
Figueroa Collection
1943
MEXICO
original still shot, restored and digitized from María Candelaria, 35mm transparancies
© Figueroa Collection


Mexican cinema, through its desire for artifice, does not merely reproduce reality but rather, in using artificial forms of construction, creates a reality which it uses to seduce the general public, teaching the latter to look at itself and recognize itself. Gabriel Figueroa has the eyes of an intruder into paradise in this shot which he took with his camera among the canals of Xochimilco for the film María Candelaria. The beauty which the photographer has managed to capture is no doubt true to life, but Figueroa heightens it to give the observer the freedom to reflect upon it.
Mexican cinema, through its desire for artifice, does not merely reproduce reality but rather, in using artificial forms of construction, creates a reality which it uses to seduce the general public, teaching the latter to look at itself and recognize itself. Gabriel Figueroa has the eyes of an intruder into paradise in this shot which he took with his camera among the canals of Xochimilco for the film María Candelaria. The beauty which the photographer has managed to capture is no doubt true to life, but Figueroa heightens it to give the observer the freedom to reflect upon it.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Una tarde en Xochimilco

Una tarde en Xochimilco (An Afternoon in Xochimilco)

Miguel Covarrubias (1904 - 1957)
Hotel Ritz, Mexico City
1947
MEXICO
mural
© Hotel Ritz, Mexico City


The desolate canals of Xochimilco, depicted years before in the work of Joaquín Clausell and Hugo Brehme in tranquil, private scenes characterized by a certain primitive quality, now reflect a new Mexico painted in Miguel Covarrubias' mural: their waters are more crowded with people, not precisely local inhabitants, but rather groups of domestic and foreign tourists. By 1947, Xochimilco had become one of the major tourist attractions of the city and a key destination for the obligatory Sunday outing. In Una tarde en Xochimilco, Covarrubias successfully gives a humorous portrait of the people going on the outing and at the same time returns to the festive, anecdotal and descriptive character of the manners and customs genre of the 19th century. The stylized approach to the figures is a product of his intensive work as a caricaturist.
The desolate canals of Xochimilco, depicted years before in the work of Joaquín Clausell and Hugo Brehme in tranquil, private scenes characterized by a certain primitive quality, now reflect a new Mexico painted in Miguel Covarrubias' mural: their waters are more crowded with people, not precisely local inhabitants, but rather groups of domestic and foreign tourists. By 1947, Xochimilco had become one of the major tourist attractions of the city and a key destination for the obligatory Sunday outing. In Una tarde en Xochimilco, Covarrubias successfully gives a humorous portrait of the people going on the outing and at the same time returns to the festive, anecdotal and descriptive character of the manners and customs genre of the 19th century. The stylized approach to the figures is a product of his intensive work as a caricaturist.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be conscious of the emotional impact that is caused and shaped by a work of art
  • Give examples of iconic landscapes from North American nations
  • Describe how the meaning of iconic landscapes has changed over time through examples
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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