In the first of these two articles to celebrate American Independence Day, I looked at landscape paintings of America predominantly painted during the nineteenth century. Today’s selection takes us well into the twentieth century, and concludes with a collection of views of one of North America’s most distinctive features, Niagara Falls.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a period of enormous change in America. It was Colin Campbell Cooper, a Philadelphian, who documented the rise of skyscrapers in New York City.
He painted the Flatiron Building, Manhattan in about 1908, just a few years after this distinctive landmark at 175 Fifth Avenue had been completed (1902). Then one of the tallest buildings in New York City, at 20 floors high, its triangular section makes it instantly recognisable. It was originally named the Fuller Building, after George A Fuller, the ‘father of the skyscraper’, but quickly gained its more popular title. It was equally quickly photographed in classic images by Alfred Stieglitz (1903) and Edward Steichen (1904), but Cooper’s composition – with its bustle of people, carriages, and aerial wisps of steam – makes his view one of the most impressive.
He also painted some older buildings, including Saint Philip’s Church, Charleston (1913) showing this beautiful Episcopal church in South Carolina, amid Cooper’s highly gestural foliage. The church was built in 1835-6 to replace a series of ill-fated wooden buildings. Its spire was completed in 1850, and served as a navigational lighthouse for many years.
Late in his career, Cooper moved to the West Coast, where he completed some exquisite paintings of the lush vegetation in California, such as his Terrace at Samarkand Hotel, Santa Barbara, California (c 1923). This hotel, most correctly named The Samarkand Persian Hotel, offered the height of luxury when it opened in 1920, in the buildings of what had been a boys’ school. Although it closed in 1940, the name lives on as one of Santa Barbara’s neighbourhoods.
American artists have enjoyed the support of patrons and enthusiasts, such as Florence Griswold (1850-1937), a resident of Old Lyme, Connecticut. She encouraged artists to stay in her house there, so founding the Old Lyme Art Colony. During the early part of his visit there in 1906, Willard Metcalf painted this unusual nocturne of Florence Griswold’s house in Old Lyme, May Night. Her house is now a museum containing the largest public collection of Metcalf’s paintings.
George Bellows’s brilliant paintings of human landscapes in New York City are justly famous, particularly Cliff Dwellers from 1913. This shows the largely immigrant population of tenements in Lower East Side, whose children featured in other paintings of his. Curiously, this was the first painting to be purchased by the county of Los Angeles for its new museum of art, in 1916, where it remains today.
Bellows’ themes were eclectic, including the sea, and several sports. His Tennis at Newport from 1920 is one a series of paintings which he made in 1919-20 from sketches and studies made during summer tennis tournaments at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. His interest here is less in the sport taking place, and more in the social event going on around it.
Joseph Stella was even more versatile and ever-changing in his genres and styles. Just before the Great War, he was captivated by scenes of amusement parks on Coney Island, on a peninsula in Brooklyn, New York City. Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913) was one of the earliest, and still among the greatest, of American Futurist paintings.
Stella’s best-known landscape, though, is probably this Cubist geometric analysis of Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, from 1919-20.
The last of these general landscape views of the US is Grant Wood’s Spring in Town from 1941, a typically rural Midwest scene as locals get out in the warm sunshine of the Spring and tend to their yards. Wood is most famous for his American Gothic from 1930, which was also set in Iowa.
The landscapes of the US are even more rich and varied, but one place has become the favoured site for many artists: the group of three vast waterfalls which straddle the border between New York State and Ontario province in Canada, Niagara Falls. Here are some examples.
Many of Frederic Edwin Church’s epic landscapes were painted further south, well beyond the US border, but this early panoramic view made in 1857 remains one of his most important works. It is now best read in its historical context, as a result of a time when secession of Southern states from the Union seemed imminent. Coupled with the significance of the Falls, and the unity of Church’s details, this painting became associated with the struggle to maintain that union.
The last and greatest of William Morris Hunt’s landscapes are views of the Niagara Falls: this, painted in 1878, is probably the most famous of those, and shows the Canadian Horseshoe falls from the Canadian side, a view almost identical to that of Church.
Hunt painted Niagara (1879) from the other side, and is unusual in that he used casein paints rather than his customary oils.
This view is one of George Inness’s late works, being painted in 1889, when the artist was sixty-four. He shows faithfully the distant signs of heavy industry.
This last view of the Falls was painted by John Henry Twachtman, in about 1894.