The paintings and photographs brought together in this exhibition show how adventuresome America's artists were in the nineteenth century, and how critical their role was to enlightening the rest of the population as to the natural wonders of the far west. When the first surveyors went westward to the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast, they took painters and photographers with them to create images that would fire the collective imagination of a nation and draw emigrants westward.
We tend to think of landscape art as a record of an artist's personal, intimate experience in nature, but in the nineteenth century, artists painted the American landscape as a response to the enthusiasms of their audience, too. Art happily served commerce—railroad building, tourism, land speculation, and settlement. Artists enthusiastically portrayed America's beauty and bounty to call their countrymen into the wilderness, onto the railroads, and across the Continental Divide. They led us to remote places of natural splendor and abundance, and we followed, leaving our own marks upon the land.
The presentation of landscape paintings in Beauty & Bounty culminates in a deep exploration of the Seattle Art Museum's own grand painting, Albert Bierstadt's Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. New research by SAM curator, Patricia Junker, has revealed insights into the painting that allow a deeper understanding of the artist's intent, as well as what the painting would have meant to his American audiences back on the East Coast.
Rather than a traditional exhibition catalogue, Beauty & Bounty will be accompanied by a book that outlines Junker's findings. Albert Bierstadt's Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast: A Superb Vision of Dreamland is co-published by the Seattle Art Museum and the University of Washington Press and was produced by Marquand Books, Seattle. It has been underwritten by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc, and is available in the SAM Shop.