Beginning in the late 1820s landscapes became increasingly popular in academy exhibitions, independent displays, and as illustrations in gift books and magazines. Cast as scriptural narratives, allegories, or naturalistic regional views often containing biblical topologies, landscapes were as likely as history paintings to reflect scriptural content or religious references. Many of the landscapes of the latter part of this period may be seen as promoting the enterprise of national growth and greatness. But texts accompanying these landscapes also suggest that they were a flexible artistic form that spoke directly to individuals about God’s immanence, beauty, or sublimity.
Section Three, painting label:
Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), The Spirit of Peace, 1851. Oil on canvas; 43 3/4" x 67". Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. Bequest of Charles Knox Smith Collection.
Jasper Cropsey is among the most important artists of the Hudson River School of landscape painting. His lush allegorical landscape, The Spirit of Peace, is a homage to the “higher style of landscape” admired and practiced by his predecessor, Thomas Cole (1801-1848). Such landscapes aimed toward the expression of significant, universal ideas.
Cropsey’s expansive imaginative view is given added power through his attention to details from the real world. His use of color evokes a warm, gentle atmosphere, and the effect of the setting sun suggests restfulness and calm. His witten description of the picture pointed out the symbols of peace including the circular temple, a sculptural group of a lion, lamb and child, and the temple’s frieze illustrating scenes from the life of Christ, described as "the highest advocate of Peace." The activities of people in the landscape were intended to illustrate the blessings of peace as industry, agriculture, commerce, family life, and learning proceed unimpeded.
Widely exhibited during the 1850's with its contrasting image, The Spirit of War, the pair were considered among Cropsey’s most important achievements. The cessation of the war with Mexico and the Compromise of 1850, which seemed to avert a conflict over slavery, presented the possibility of a peaceful future. It was the hope of many religious Americans, like Cropsey, that the nation could now embark on a virtuous course and achieve the political and social equivalent of the millennium.
Section Three, labels for books, prints & pamphlets:
James Smillie after Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), Summer, Ornaments of Memory. New York: D. Appelton & Co., 1854. LCP
James D. Smillie after Thomas Cole, The Garden of Eden, The Holy Bible, Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1831. Free Library of Philadelphia.
The frontispiece for this American bible was engraved after Thomas Cole’s early scriptural landscape The Garden of Eden. This painting and its companion picture, The Expulsion from Eden, were painted in 1827-8 and formed a narrative pair of contrasting images. The sublime landscape of The Expulsion with its sharp contrasts of light and dark and jagged forms dramatized man’s fearful fall from God’s favor. The Garden, seen here, celebrated the peace, beauty, and stability of Eden. Cole’s lush landscape weds specific natural forms of vegetation with symbolic references such as the image of the stag, a symbol of the faithful Christian’s longing for God. The engraving was executed shortly after The Garden of Eden was acquired by a collector. Prior to that time both paintings had been on public display.
John Sartain after Peter Rothermel, Forest Worship. The Opal: A Pure Gift for the Holy Days. New York: J.C. Riker, 1848. LCP
The popular metaphor that life carries man along like the stream of a mighty river rushing into an infinite sea is reminiscent of Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress in charting the hazardous journey of a Christian soul through life. Childhood, Youth, Manhood and Old Age are all distinct stages; Cole dramatized the salient character of each through individual landscapes expressive of the protagonist’s emotional and spiritual state.
The Rev. G.D. Abbott, The Voyage of Life, promotional pamphlet for sale of the engraved series by James Smillie, 1856. LCP
When the American Art-Union purchased Cole’s series The Voyage of Life in 1848, their membership almost doubled. Based in New York City, this organization purchased and displayed art by American artists and then annually distributed the works by lottery to their membership. Members also received publications often containing engravings of important works purchased during that year, plus a high quality engraving suitable for framing.
The engravings advertised in this pamphlet were commissioned by the Spingler Institute,which purchased the paintings from Mr. J.T. Brodt, who won them in the 1848 Art-Union lottery. The Institute commissioned James Smillie, one of America’s most accomplished engravers, to produce the set. The pamphlet contains descriptions and interpretations of each of the four engravings plus pages of testimonials from major artists, writers and clergymen on the importance of the paintings and the quality of the engravings. Cole’s images were popular for another 30 years, and prints by a variety of engravers were as likely to be found on the walls of American homes as portraits of George Washington.
John Cheney after Thomas Sully, The Gipsy. In The Gift. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1841. LCP
At first glance this image does not appear to be related to a scriptural subject. But, when viewed in the context of the accompanying text it is clear the image embodies a sub-text that addresses the issue of belief and redemption. The young woman seen here is identified as a gipsy, and like images of beautiful, young Native-American women who also appear in this type of literature, she is an outsider to the domestic social norms of 19th century American Protestant culture.
The poem extols her beauty, joyfulness, gentleness of heart, spontaneity and love of nature, but she will only be perfect if she can be “won from the ways of idleness and sin.” Otherwise, she is lost. She is an Eve unredeemed by the knowledge of the Christian scriptural message.