Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia announces The Valley of the Shadow American Landscapes in the Time of the Civil War

Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia presents The Valley of the Shadow American Landscapes in the Time of the Civil War, an exhibition on view Aug. 31 through Dec. 16, 2012.


David Johnson, American 1827-1908 On the James River, Virginia, 1860 Oil on canvas, 121/4 x 171/4 in, 31.1 x 43.8 cm Gift of the Alumni Board of Trustees of the University of Virginia Endowment Fund, Inc., 2010.3

Representing the American landscape around the time of the Civil War posed a major challenge to artists working in the mid-19th century. While artists such as those associated with the Hudson River School expressed a vision of American nature that was breathtakingly beautiful and that evoked an image of the potential for expansion and development that remains powerful today, the actual American landscape they knew was fraught with political and social tensions and defined by unprecedented change.

The seaboard regions of the Northern states were rapidly industrializing, while the plantation society of the South depended on the inhumane bondage of more people than ever before, bringing the problem of slavery increasing- ly into the national spotlight.

The exhibition addresses a central problem faced by painters of the American landscape in the mid-19th century: How to represent a national land that was, in actuality, hotly contested by different groups, increasingly divided by political tensions and that by 1860s became the site of unprecedented violence and trauma.

The exhibition considers the myriad ways in which artists of the period grappled with the vexing problem of representing a nation at war. Images by Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Sanford Robinson Gifford, David Johnson, John Frederick Kensett, Aaron Draper Shattuck and others contextualize the questions and challenges faced by American landscapists. Their works are supplemented with photographs by Mathew Brady and a lithograph by Currier & Ives, on loan from U.Va.’s Special Collections Library—images that engage the war and the bloodshed that resulted in a more direct manner.

The exhibition demonstrates that American landscapes of the mid-19th century are as notable for what they did not depict as for what they showed, and that the vision of America they articulated and imagined remains powerful today.

The Fralin Museum of Art is located at 155 Rugby Road, one block from the Rotunda and is open Tuesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m. – www.virginia.edu

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