I love to be in nature. Well, some nature…not the 94 degrees, 100% humidity and the mosquitos are eating me alive nature I have out my back door most of the time. I love to be in the 40-85 degree nature with a nice breeze and lovely trees. I grew up on a prairie 18 hours inland, with a historical marker next to the first tree planted in the area. (It hasn’t fared too well.) But in a land with no trees, we know the sky. This kind of sky:
I believe this sky. It feels like sunsets should—big wide spaces, heart soaring. It make me feel like I can fly, all while my feet are firmly planted on the ground. But this sky isn’t in my hometown. It is in Italy.
Venice, the View from Near San Georgio by Thomas Moran is an exceptional landscape—yellow and pink and orange and blue and green and gold. Landscape images so often fall short of the glory of the real thing that I don’t seek them out. Moran’s view of Venice, however, hits all the right notes. First, he starts with an incredible subject. Really, do you find all those colors credible? No? I’m not surprised. But I do beg to differ.
During the year I spent abroad, I spent a glorious six hours in Venice. I know, six hours isn’t long enough to sneeze at all the mystery and beauty and otherworldliness of the watery city, but there were no spaces in the youth hostel, and so my companions and I were tied to the train schedule.
I am not a boating person (see inland upbringing, above). I once read a famous French poem that I carefully translated word for word with my French-English dictionary, only to discover that I could barely understand it in English because so many words were boating jargon. But while in Venice, I got to ride on a gondola, at sunset, and it was magical.
Moran, however, is not known for magic per se, or even for Venice. He is known for painting the natural grandeur of the American west. His depictions of Yellowstone helped spur the US Government to turn it into the first National Park.
Moran was part of a loose collection of painters referred to as the Hudson River School. They didn’t attend school together, or necessarily even spend time on the Hudson, but they each shared a desire to capture nature in an almost spiritual way. Show the glory of the world, pristine, untouched, and lift the spirits of the viewer in doing so. America as Eden. (see Burns, Sharron)
Venice, from Near San Georgio has a bit more cityscape to it than most of Moran’s work, but the amount of canvas dedicated to sea and sky only highlights how tiny our human creations are compared to the great outdoors. For me, at least, Moran’s work succeeds beautifully. Even as I sit in my air conditioned house staring at a computer screen avoiding the Texas heat.
How do you feel about nature? Does art ever succeed at capturing that feeling for you?
Sharron Burns’ article for Charlotte, North Carolina’s Mint Museum enlightened me about the intended spirituality in Hudson River School’s landscapes.
Ken Burns (hmmm…two Burns in the notes today!) PBS documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea includes reference to Thomas Moran in Episode One: The Scripture of Nature.