In this richly illustrated volume, including a number of stunning color prints, Barbara Novak explains that for fifty extraordinary years, American society bestowed in the idea of Nature its most cherished ideals. Between 1825 and 1875 all kinds of Americansartists, writers, scientists, as well as everyday citizensbelieved that God in Nature could resolve human contradictions, and that nature itself confirmed the American destiny. During these years Nature, God, and Man converged to become a trinity, and it was through the landscape painters, the leaders of this intellectual movement, that the nation was reminded of divine benevolence "by keeping before their eyes the mountains, trees, forests, and lakes." Using diaries and letters of the artists as well as quotes from literary texts, journals, and periodicals, Novak illuminates the range of ideas projected on to the American landscape by painters such as Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Asher B. Durand, Fitz Hugh Lane, and Martin J. Heade, and writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, Théodore Rousseau, and Frederich Wilhelm Schelling.
Adding a rich new dimension to the discussion of nature's influence on the American mind, Novak explains how religion, philosophy, science, and literatrue served as the support system for the idea of God in Nature. She shows that the idea of nature as a national vested interest was invaluable to a young expanding nation, but ultimately this essentially monolithic view collapsed from within, undermined by the Civil War, Darwinism, and a burgeoning technological landscape. Taking American landscape painting in its golden era as a product of society, she examines the cultural background of paintings as an index to their intrinsic meaning. She explains, for example, how new discoveries in science were made consonant with Deity, how religion itself permeated nature with the idea of Creation, and how the landscape artists were given the task of providing the images of nature that became the national iconography. Novak goes on to demonstrate how American landscapists, handling rocks, clouds, plants, and other natural elements, paralleled and diverged from scientific developments, and also how the landscapists who accompanied explorers on their westward expeditions related to their scientific colleagues.
Now with a new introduction, this incisive volume encompasses a vast cultural panorama. It beautifully demonstrates how the influence of the nature served, not only as a vehicle for artistic creation, but as its ideal form.