Sometimes there is more to art than meets the eye, even in landscapes. A picture of a green valley is not only about a valley if the artist intended it as an allegory. In art, allegories express a truth about life or human nature through symbols. As an allegory, a green valley might represent many ideas, such as prosperity or optimism for the future.

Allegorical landscapes are one way that artists express nationalism. The meanings behind such artworks tell fascinating stories about the culture and identity of the countries they depict.
Sometimes there is more to art than meets the eye, even in landscapes. A picture of a green valley is not only about a valley if the artist intended it as an allegory. In art, allegories express a truth about life or human nature through symbols. As an allegory, a green valley might represent many ideas, such as prosperity or optimism for the future.

Allegorical landscapes are one way that artists express nationalism. The meanings behind such artworks tell fascinating stories about the culture and identity of the countries they depict.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge

The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge

Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Katie Dean in memory of Minnibel S. and James Wallace Dean and museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program
1829
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


From within the shadowy mouth of a great cavern, a bright light illuminates the rocky overhang, water, and sky. In the distance, an ark floats upon a calm sea and a tiny dove wings its way from shore. Although this painting is not a recognizable American landscape, its meaning had significance for early U.S. viewers. This painting depicts the Great Flood as described in the Old Testament of the Bible. Thomas Cole recognized that Americans had the opportunity to make a new society in a divinely inspired wilderness. His allegorical landscape paintings depicted the United States as the “new Eden,” washed clean of the monarchic despotism of Europe.
From within the shadowy mouth of a great cavern, a bright light illuminates the rocky overhang, water, and sky. In the distance, an ark floats upon a calm sea and a tiny dove wings its way from shore. Although this painting is not a recognizable American landscape, its meaning had significance for early U.S. viewers. This painting depicts the Great Flood as described in the Old Testament of the Bible. Thomas Cole recognized that Americans had the opportunity to make a new society in a divinely inspired wilderness. His allegorical landscape paintings depicted the United States as the “new Eden,” washed clean of the monarchic despotism of Europe.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

October

October

John Whetten Ehninger (1827 - 1889)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
c. 1867
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


On a crisp autumn day, several farm workers labor side-by-side harvesting a bountiful crop. The man, who pauses in his work to talk with the young woman, is probably the owner of the farm. A boy, perhaps his son, waits in the wagon bed to drive the produce to market. The scene celebrates the prosperity of U.S. agriculture following the Civil War and boasts of regional crops that were marketed nationwide.
On a crisp autumn day, several farm workers labor side-by-side harvesting a bountiful crop. The man, who pauses in his work to talk with the young woman, is probably the owner of the farm. A boy, perhaps his son, waits in the wagon bed to drive the produce to market. The scene celebrates the prosperity of U.S. agriculture following the Civil War and boasts of regional crops that were marketed nationwide.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

John Quidor (1801 - 1881)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Director's Discretionary Fund
1858
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
68.30 X 86.10 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


John Quidor was well known for his illustrations of author Washington Irving’s fictional histories about Dutch colonial New York, known then as "New Amsterdam." Irving’s stories were favorite subjects among nineteenth-century artists. His colorful characters and improbable yarns created a mythology for a U.S. public that had few literary traditions. This image, which so effectively represents a threat from the unknown, may also convey the feelings of many Dutch descendants in the 1850s, when their traditions were overwhelmed by the burgeoning immigrant population of metropolitan New York.
John Quidor was well known for his illustrations of author Washington Irving’s fictional histories about Dutch colonial New York, known then as "New Amsterdam." Irving’s stories were favorite subjects among nineteenth-century artists. His colorful characters and improbable yarns created a mythology for a U.S. public that had few literary traditions. This image, which so effectively represents a threat from the unknown, may also convey the feelings of many Dutch descendants in the 1850s, when their traditions were overwhelmed by the burgeoning immigrant population of metropolitan New York.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Eleanor Blodgett
1865
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


An unusual natural phenomenon during the last phase of the U. S. Civil War inspired this painting. Following two Union victories in late 1864, millions of Northerners witnessed the aurora borealis, or the "northern lights" as far south as Virginia. Many believed it was a sign of the North's impending victory, and some interpreted Church's dazzling Arctic aurora shielding the icebound ship as an emblem of divine salvation for the Union.
An unusual natural phenomenon during the last phase of the U. S. Civil War inspired this painting. Following two Union victories in late 1864, millions of Northerners witnessed the aurora borealis, or the "northern lights" as far south as Virginia. Many believed it was a sign of the North's impending victory, and some interpreted Church's dazzling Arctic aurora shielding the icebound ship as an emblem of divine salvation for the Union.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Dodges Ridge

Dodges Ridge

Andrew Wyeth (1917 - )
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
1947
UNITED STATES
egg tempera on fiberboard
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


The inter-relatedness of land and people is the true subject of Andrew Wyeth's art, and Dodges Ridge, depicting Westport, Maine, is no exception. A barren and weathered hillside under a gloomy sky is crossed by tractor tracks. This sign of humanity, the cultivator, moving uphill is an optimistic symbol in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The tilted wooden stake with crossbar and tattered cloth streaming from it are probably the skeleton of a farmer's scarecrow. Their obvious religious symbolism cannot be ignored, however, and it is probable that the painting commemorates the accidental death of the artist's father, the noted illustrator N.C. Wyeth, in late 1945.
The inter-relatedness of land and people is the true subject of Andrew Wyeth's art, and Dodges Ridge, depicting Westport, Maine, is no exception. A barren and weathered hillside under a gloomy sky is crossed by tractor tracks. This sign of humanity, the cultivator, moving uphill is an optimistic symbol in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The tilted wooden stake with crossbar and tattered cloth streaming from it are probably the skeleton of a farmer's scarecrow. Their obvious religious symbolism cannot be ignored, however, and it is probable that the painting commemorates the accidental death of the artist's father, the noted illustrator N.C. Wyeth, in late 1945.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Ryder's House

Ryder's House

Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design
1933
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


Edward Hopper is considered the leading twentieth-century realist, but he often took liberties with his subjects to heighten their emotional impact. This painting, Ryder's House, is an unpeopled landscape of a forlorn dwelling. It suggests the richness of light, texture, and mood that so strongly characterizes much of Hopper's work. This, like many of his well-known paintings, was created well before World War II, yet seems to prophesy the alienation and angst often associated with the Cold War years of the 1950s.
Edward Hopper is considered the leading twentieth-century realist, but he often took liberties with his subjects to heighten their emotional impact. This painting, Ryder's House, is an unpeopled landscape of a forlorn dwelling. It suggests the richness of light, texture, and mood that so strongly characterizes much of Hopper's work. This, like many of his well-known paintings, was created well before World War II, yet seems to prophesy the alienation and angst often associated with the Cold War years of the 1950s.

© 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
  • Define allegory, and give examples from landscape art
  • Describe how allegory in landscape reveal aspects of culture and national identity
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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