Despite a fifty-year career as a landscape painter, Christopher Cranch’s paintings are little known. Instead, he is best known for his poetry, his ties to the New England Transcendentalists, and, above all, his playful caricature of Ralph Waldo Emerson as an enormous “transparent” eyeball, perched atop a minuscule body in top hat and tails, optic nerve tied in a ponytail. From his first reading of Emerson’s Nature essay (1836), Cranch was inspired to explore Transcendental concepts through visual means; although ultimately it was painting, not caricature, that provided the ideal vehicle for him. Transcribing nature onto canvas became an act of devotion. Like Thoreau writing of the daily trials of life on Walden Pond, Cranch also attempted, in his landscapes, to express the correspondence between nature and spiritual concepts. His brand of Transcendentalism bypasses the quiet,“transparent” aspect to celebrate a nature that is filled with the flux and continual shifting that Emerson and Thoreau also celebrated in their writings. C. P. Cranch was intimate with some of the most innovative thinkers in America and counted among his friends Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George William Curtis, and James Russell Lowell. This study considers Cranch not only as a Hudson River School artist, but also as a participant in the history of ideas, a multifaceted individual who merged intellectual and artistic life.
Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)
Meet the Author
NANCY STULA is the Curator and Deputy Director at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. She has previously published several articles including “American Artists Abroad and Their Inspiration,” American Art Review (October, 2004); and “Christopher Pearse Cranch: Painter of Transcendentalism,” in Transient and Permanent: The Transcendental Movement and Its Context (1999, 2002). Stula worked as a research assistant in the Department of American Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1991-1994 and prior to her appointment at the Lyman Allyn, she was on the Art History faculty at the University of Hartford. DAVID M. ROBINSON is the Director of the Center for the Humanities and Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Oregon State University. He is the author of numerous publications on the New England Transcendentalists, including Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism (2004); Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work (1993); and as editor: The Political Emerson: Essential Writings on Politics and Social Reform (2004); and The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Writings (2003). BARBARA NOVAK, Professor Emerita at Columbia University and one of the most influential theorists of American art, is the author of several books including American Painting of the 19th Century, and Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875. Novak served on the Advisory Council of the Archives of American Art and the Editorial Boards of American Art Journal and College Art Journal. She has also been Commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery and a Fellow at the Society of American Historians.
Lenders to the Exhibition
Foreword – Barbara Novak
Transcendentalism: The Path from Preaching to Painting – Nancy Stula
Christopher Pearse Cranch and the New England Transcendentalists – David M. Robinson
“Like A Great Picture Always Before Us”: Christopher Pearse Cranch and Italy – Nancy Stula
At Home and Abroad: Cranch and American Landscape Painting – Nancy Stula
Appendix: Exhibition Record
Checklist of the Exhibition