Some art images have become visual shorthand for a country’s culture and values, expressing, as the saying goes, a thousand words. These icons evoke shared feelings and ideas, which are the basis of a nation’s identity. The powerful images shown here may depict a person, such as George Washington, the first president of the United States; an object; or a place. Comparing images that stir national pride, we readily see that pictures from each North American country are different, but their power and spirit are similar.
Some art images have become visual shorthand for a country’s culture and values, expressing, as the saying goes, a thousand words. These icons evoke shared feelings and ideas, which are the basis of a nation’s identity. The powerful images shown here may depict a person, such as George Washington, the first president of the United States; an object; or a place. Comparing images that stir national pride, we readily see that pictures from each North American country are different, but their power and spirit are similar.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Visit of the Prince of Wales, President Buchanan and Dignitaries to the Tomb of Washington at Mount Vernon, October 1860

Visit of the Prince of Wales, President Buchanan and Dignitaries to the Tomb of Washington at Mount Vernon, October 1860

Thomas P. Rossiter (1818 - 1871)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Harriet Lane Johnston Collection
1861
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


Although there is no patron saint of the United States, if there were it would most likely be first President George Washington. Even in his own time, Washington was practically worshipped, and by the time this painting was completed, people routinely made pilgrimages to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, to see his grave. So the historic visit in 1860 of the Prince of Wales to Washington's tomb was a momentous event, for it signified England's tribute to an American icon, who was once her adversary, and her respectful recognition of the enduring independence of her former colony.
Although there is no patron saint of the United States, if there were it would most likely be first President George Washington. Even in his own time, Washington was practically worshipped, and by the time this painting was completed, people routinely made pilgrimages to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, to see his grave. So the historic visit in 1860 of the Prince of Wales to Washington's tomb was a momentous event, for it signified England's tribute to an American icon, who was once her adversary, and her respectful recognition of the enduring independence of her former colony.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Cliffs of the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming Territory

Cliffs of the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming Territory

Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design
1882
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
40.50 X 61.00 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


The majestic array of cliffs that lines the banks of the Green River in southwestern Wyoming ranked high among Thomas Moran's favorite western subjects. He returned there time and again, sketching it from different angles and under changing skies. Though small in size, this painting gives a sensation of expansiveness, as a small group of Indians rides toward a distant encampment below soaring cliffs. Moran's opalescent colors and flowing brushwork evoke an untouched wilderness, although the area was settled by the 1880s.
The majestic array of cliffs that lines the banks of the Green River in southwestern Wyoming ranked high among Thomas Moran's favorite western subjects. He returned there time and again, sketching it from different angles and under changing skies. Though small in size, this painting gives a sensation of expansiveness, as a small group of Indians rides toward a distant encampment below soaring cliffs. Moran's opalescent colors and flowing brushwork evoke an untouched wilderness, although the area was settled by the 1880s.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Grand Canon of the Colorado

Grand Canon of the Colorado

William H. Jackson (1843 - 1942)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
c. 1880
UNITED STATES
albumen print on paper mounted on paperboard
53.70 X 42.80 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


From 1870 to 1878 William H. Jackson was the official photographer for a U.S. government-sponsored survey of the western territories. He made his first photographs of the Yellowstone area in 1871, returning there many times in subsequent years. These images became extremely popular and played an important part in convincing Congress to pass the bill in 1872 that established Yellowstone as the first national park. Working with fellow survey artists Sanford R. Gifford and Thomas Moran, Jackson developed a style of photgraphy that was both descriptive and broadly pictorial. In turn, many artists drew upon Jackson’s images as source material for their paintings.
From 1870 to 1878 William H. Jackson was the official photographer for a U.S. government-sponsored survey of the western territories. He made his first photographs of the Yellowstone area in 1871, returning there many times in subsequent years. These images became extremely popular and played an important part in convincing Congress to pass the bill in 1872 that established Yellowstone as the first national park. Working with fellow survey artists Sanford R. Gifford and Thomas Moran, Jackson developed a style of photgraphy that was both descriptive and broadly pictorial. In turn, many artists drew upon Jackson’s images as source material for their paintings.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Dover Plain, Dutchess County, New York

Dover Plain, Dutchess County, New York

Asher B. Durand (1796 - 1886)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Thomas M. Evans and museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program
1848
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


In this gently lit, pastoral landscape, cows graze near a party of berry-pickers who have climbed a cluster of boulders. The panoramic view reveals distant fields, cultivated and bounded by rows of trees and forested areas. The standing figure, surveying the calm and peaceful vista, represents the optimistic future for the citizenry at mid-century.
In this gently lit, pastoral landscape, cows graze near a party of berry-pickers who have climbed a cluster of boulders. The panoramic view reveals distant fields, cultivated and bounded by rows of trees and forested areas. The standing figure, surveying the calm and peaceful vista, represents the optimistic future for the citizenry at mid-century.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

The Hill Field

Arthur Wesley Dow often depicted the countryside around his birthplace, Ipswich, Massachusetts, and throughout his life he returned to this small New England town to paint and teach. Although better known for his Japanese-inspired work, Dow experimented with a variety of styles and media. Here he tried his hand at impressionism, perhaps influenced by several years of study in France.

Arthur Wesley Dow (1857 - 1922)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
1908 - 1910
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas mounted on paperboard
35.50 X 50.50 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


Arthur Wesley Dow often depicted the countryside around his birthplace, Ipswich, Massachusetts, and throughout his life he returned to this small New England town to paint and teach. Although better known for his Japanese-inspired work, Dow experimented with a variety of styles and media. Here he tried his hand at impressionism, perhaps influenced by several years of study in France.
Arthur Wesley Dow often depicted the countryside around his birthplace, Ipswich, Massachusetts, and throughout his life he returned to this small New England town to paint and teach. Although better known for his Japanese-inspired work, Dow experimented with a variety of styles and media. Here he tried his hand at impressionism, perhaps influenced by several years of study in France.

© 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
  • Recognize that art, in the form of national icons, shapes and affirms a nation’s identity
  • Recognize national icons and the country to which they belong, and form an opinion about the identity of the nation they represent
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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