I visited Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University campus today. They had a special exhibit called “Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape”. Quite a mouthful, but the emphasis was how artists in the 1800’s were instrumental in opening up the American west to tourism.
I met my good friend, Scott Loftesness for lunch at the museum cafe. Before retiring from the computer software industry, I worked both for and with Scott in various capacities. Towards the end, he was on the board of directors of a company I started and eventually sold. He now runs a successful consulting company concentrating on the electronic payments industry, and also an avid photographer.
After lunch, we hurried to catch a docent tour of the exhibit. Most of the works were preliminary field sketches by the three artists. Although maybe not as dramatic as finished paintings, it was interesting to see the development and methodology they used. Most were oils on paper, and to my eye could possibly represent finished paintings!
As the docent explained how the artists did their sketches and later translated them into larger paintings, I felt like I was on familiar territory. Much of the terminology and methodology hasn’t really changed much in 150 years, at least for us traditional painters.
Although we have much better and more stable materials than they had back then, the motives and goals remain the same. Artists still want to grab the viewers eyes, pull them in, and move them around the painting in a predetermined but pleasing manner. We still want to capture a sense of place and time.
In the final of three galleries, was a wall size painting of Church’s famous painting of Niagara Falls, shown above. Unfortunately, it was not the original, but an enlarged print probably 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide! It was still quite impressive as it certainly made you feel like you were standing on the precipice of Niagara! The only thing missing was the roar!