Currently on view in Endangered Art.
(Attributed) Albert Bierstadt, "Niagara Falls," late 19th century.
Both paintings attributed to Albert Bierstadt in the Mulvane Art Museum's current exhibition "Endangered Art," deal with the inherent power and grandeur of the American landscape.
Niagara Falls was a subject treated by Bierstadt and many of his contemporaries, such as Frederic Edwin Church, and can be contextualized within a larger aesthetic theme that engaged artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the Sublime.
The concept of the Sublime can be traced all the way back to the 1st century CE work of Greek writer Longinus. In the eighteenth century, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Idea of the Sublime and Beautiful," 1756. Burke's definition of the Sublime dealt with the overwhelming, and awe-inspiring power of nature-- its vastness, darkness, and danger.
Intrinsic to the formulation of an American identity was the treatment and depiction of America's natural resources. American artists, especially those belonging to the Hudson River School, sought to express American landscape in the Sublime mode. With its rushing water, roaring sounds, and its thrilling plunge in height, Niagara Falls magnificently encapsulated the splendor of American landscape and the emotive possibility of the Sublime.
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