America As Landscape

When Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the landscape painting tradition in the United States, was headed to Italy for the first time in 1829, his friend, the poet William Cullen Bryant, warned the English-born painter that Europe would present him with “the trace of men” in the form of “homes, graves, ruins,” and signs of human cultivation. He encouraged Cole to keep the supposedly untouched wilderness of the United States in mind. For Bryant, the “unspoiled” American land was an expression of cultural and national identity.

Of course, in truth the land that is now the United States was home to Native peoples long before the 1800s. Industrialization, tourism, and settlement were well established when many of the artists who form the core of the Carter’s rich collection of landscape painting made their way to the locations in their work. Still, artists used their creative powers to introduce people near and far to the natural wonders of the continent in the face of growing settlement and urbanization.