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The Picturesque Landscape

During the 19th century, the Latin American landscape came to assume enormous symbolic power in the imaginations of both Europeans and Latin Americans. Celebrity artists like Frederic Edwin Church departed from New York to paint the Andes, while Europeans for whom art making was secondary to their roles as ship captains and ambassadors made works that capture the visual interest of the Latin American landscape. Artists painted landscapes of Brazil, Venezuela, and Mexico as members of official expeditions, charged—even after the invention of photography—to record new flora, fauna, and geology, and to map countries that had recently won wars of independence against Spain. Latin American nationals also present landscape painting as a regional art form. In this gallery, the straightforward observations offered by Latin American artists José María Velasco and Camille Pissarro pose significant counterpoints to the romanticized, dramatic compositions created by artists from Europe and the United States.

Although artists accompanying expeditions were tasked with collecting scientific data, the romanticism that filtered their gazes abounds in their landscape paintings. We glimpse in their works the conventions of the Picturesque—a formula for an ideal landscape that was deeply ingrained in both academic training and in the broader popular imagination by the early 19th century. Wild nature—its craggy rocks, gigantic mountains, and expansive sky—could be organized by framing a scene with trees, centering it on a calm body of water, and guiding a viewer’s eye through the painting with shadow and light. Picturesque conventions helped to convey artists’ awe in the face of a Latin American sublime, the fearful beauty of nature famously theorized by Edmund Burke and manifest in the jagged rocks of the Andes and the brilliant hues of the tropical sunset. This gallery shows artists calling on such conventions to mediate their experience of these landscapes. Moreover, their use of such typologies in small-scale paintings show them fashioning images of the exotic Latin American landscape for receptive European and U.S. audiences.

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