ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
North America Divided
Don and Viriginia Davis Gallery
Pairing 19th-century landscapes and genre scenes with works by contemporary artists Neil Jenney and Valerie Hegarty, North America Divided explores themes of social and territorial division and transformation in America throughout the 1800s to today.
In the early 19th century, romanticized landscape paintings glorified the American wilderness and helped to promote Manifest Destiny, a belief that American settlers were destined to expand westward and unite its people into one federal Union. Despite its lofty idealism, the rapid territorial expansion – which spanned from the Mississippi River to Texas, California, and Oregon – was not without conflict, but contributed to the displacement of thousands of Native Americans and the outbreak of both the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and Civil War (1861-1865).
By mid-1800s, artists began to capture the transformative impact of expansion and war and its effects on the American psyche. In contrast to the serene landscapes of Frederic Church and Asher B. Durand in the previous gallery, the paintings of John F. Kensett, Jervis McEntee, and Annette Parmentier Moran convey a palpable sense of unease. Richard Caton Woodville’s War News From Mexico and Winslow Homer’s Skirmish in the Wilderness depict territorial conflict, while Ralph Blakelock’s The Encampment depicts a nostalgic view of Native Americans that no longer existed after the 1830 Indian Removal Act forced indigenous peoples to relinquish their homes.
While paying homage to 19th century painters, contemporary artists Valerie Hegarty and Neil Jenney offer cautionary tales about manifest destiny and the cost of human progress. Although their landscape scenes appear under the threat of destruction, both convey optimism: branches appear to re-grow from Hegarty’s frame, while a small seedling pushes upward in Jenney’s painting, suggesting hope for the future in a divided land.