Stunning vistas and rolling plains have long been admired by people living in the United States. But now, thanks to a Yale curator, a whole new audience will be able to enjoy these panoramic American views — the British public.
Tim Barringer, the History of Art Department’s director of undergraduate studies, is a curator of Tate Britain’s “American Sublime,” a compilation of 19th-century American landscape paintings. The show, which debuted in London in February, moved to Philadelphia this summer, and will open in Minneapolis this weekend, has been getting rave reviews.
“[‘American Sublime’] is certainly the first and best show of its kind ever to grace a European city,” Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds said in an e-mail.
In the 14 years during which Barringer and former Yale Center for British Art curator Andrew Wilton selected the 99 paintings in the exhibit, they visited nearly every major art museum in America.
“The reason it took so long,” Barringer said, “is that we wouldn’t go ahead until we had the ultimate list.”
“American Sublime” includes landscapes by artists such as Asher Durand, Albert Bierstadt and Sanford Gifford, as well as a five-canvas series by Thomas Cole. Additionally, the exhibit contains two paintings from the Yale University Art Gallery: “Mount Ktaadn,” by Frederic Church and Martin Heade’s “Sudden Shower, Newbury Marshes.”
“We are delighted to have lent our two paintings to the show in London, which was clearly a great success there,” Reynolds said.
Barringer and several art critics have said the exhibition of American landscapes is of particular interest to the British public because of its obvious connection to British art.
“[The American landscapes are] the logical extension — and conclusion — of the great tradition of landscape exemplified by [British artists] Caspar David Friedrick, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and the painters of the high romantic period,” Barringer and Wilton wrote in the exhibition’s catalog.
Despite the stylistic similarities between the two countries’ landscape paintings, though, Barringer said, the subjects remain very different. By the 19th century most of England’s land was cultivated, whereas the American wilderness was largely untouched. In written reviews, several British critics praised the range of colors and geography found in the “American Sublime” landscapes.
Barringer said that though “nobody knew how the British public would respond” when the exhibit first opened in London, nearly all critical reviews have been positive. British reviews frequently highlight the combination of intricate detail and immense size of many of the paintings, such as Bierstadt’s “Storm in the Rocky Mountains,” which spans 82 by 142 inches, over 80 square feet.
“The scale completely took the British by surprise,” Barringer said.
The curators for the exhibit were involved with all aspects of its execution, from the original research and proposal to the selection and display of the paintings to multiple press conferences. As a final step, the Tate Britain staff coordinated safe arrival of the featured paintings, mostly from the United States. Every painting was fully insured by the Tate, locked in a custom-fitted case and, if size allowed, placed on its own airplane seat next to a curator from the donor museum.
Undoubtedly equal care will be taken as the exhibit moves to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts this week, after touring at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art over the summer.