Artists Portray the American
History of Art, History, Art, Social Studies
Influence of Art in Yellowstone
Students will be able to:
- Identify two artists who have painted American
landscapes and one work that each has painted
- State biographical facts about each of the
- Analyze a work of art by each
In nineteenth-century America, landscape paintings
became prominent in galleries, exhibition halls
and publications. During the eighteenth century
many artists had found that painting portraits
was the primary way to establish an artistic career.
That emphasis changed in the next decade. The
interest in portraying the land developed for
many reasons. As some United States citizens accumulated
wealth and property, they cherished representations
of land they owned, hoped to own, or at least
enjoyed visiting. Representations of nature also
signified the spiritual; America seemed like a
new Eden, the original garden that was perfection,
a concept that derived from readings of the Bible.
The landscape also signified America itself. Whereas
Europe had a long history, symbolized by its castles,
cathedrals and civic monuments, the United States
was a new nation, forging its identity. That identity
could be seen in the unique natural features of
The beginning of the American landscape tradition
is often considered to be the "Hudson River
School," a term used to identify artists
who shared an interest in portraying the landscape
north of New York City. Although they did not
have a formal school or association, they shared
a commitment to the romantic landscape and to
creating an art that was truly American. Thomas
Cole is often seen as leader of the Hudson River
artists. Another dominant figure was Frederic
Church, who took his brush from Niagara Falls
to South America. The American West attracted
landscape artists because it presented opportunities
for portraying wilderness, dramatic vistas of
the plains, and sublime mountains. Albert Bierstadt
and Thomas Moran traveled to the West on expeditions
and produced breathtaking representations. In
the late nineteenth century, American artists
learned impressionistic styles. Artists such as
Childe Hassam and John Twachtman portrayed American
scenes with bravura brushstrokes and a changed
emphasis on the use of light. Although it is often
thought that interest in the land diminished in
the twentieth century, artists such as Georgia
O'Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth have found significant
inspiration in regional settings. In recent history,
the environmental movement has sparked a renewed
interest in depicting American natural settings.
Reference resources on American artists (See the
Bibliography and Website List accompanying Influence
of Art in Yellowstone. Also, use encyclopedias,
books on American art and history, available from
your local libraries)
Access to a printer to download images and/or
photocopier to copy images from publications
Space to create an exhibition gallery and a method
to display copies of paintings (examples: Use
corkboard and thumbtacks or classroom walls with
Discuss landscape art with your students. Divide
the class into groups of three students. Assign
each group an artist to research. Allow time for
research outside the classroom.
Artists to consider (some of these artists are
known for their paintings of other subjects, such
as Native Americans or cowboys, but they do have
landscapes in their body of work):
John James Audubon; Thomas Cole; Frederic Church;
George Catlin; Alfred Jacob Miller; Seth Eastman;
Fitz Hugh Lane; Albert Bierstadt; Thomas Moran;
Winslow Homer; George Inness; Thomas Hill; John
Twachtman; Childe Hassam; Sidney Laurence; Robert
Scott Duncanson; Frederic Remington; Charles M.
Russell; Carl Rungius; Thomas Hart Benton; Georgia
O'Keeffe; John Marin; Andrew Wyeth. (There are
many others who could be included. Use local resources
such as libraries or museums to add artists from
Each group should study the artist's biography
and works of art. Each group should choose one
of the artist's landscape paintings. Help each
group obtain a copy of it by downloading, photocopying
from a publication, or in another method such
as purchasing from a reproduction source (if appropriate
in your educational situation). Each group should
plan to exhibit the work of art and prepare a
"gallery talk" about the artist and
the work of art.
Among the questions they should research:
1. Where was the artist born and where did he/she
2. As a youth, did the artist show an aptitude
for art and how was that demonstrated?
3. Where did the artist study art (example, in
Europe, with another artist, in a special school)?
What kind of lessons did he/she learn? What types
of art inspired the artist?
4. How did the artist become interested in landscape
5. What sites did the artist paint? Did the artist
paint any landscapes that can be associated with
a national park?
6. What is the style of the artist? For example,
do the paintings seem realistic in a traditional
way or are they abstract? Does the artist paint
with distinct lines or with broad patterns or
strokes? How does the artist use color: are the
paintings dark, bright, subdued, pale, harsh?
How does the artist portray light in the painting?
Where is the primary focal point (the primary
area of interest) in the painting?
7. What were the artist's ideas about art and
about the landscape? What did he/she say that
helps you understand their ideas? What did other
people of the time say about the artist's works?
Concerning the work of art:
1. What is the title (or name) of the painting?
What site does it depict?
2. When did the artist paint it? What experiences
did he have in making it?
3. What is the style of the painting (see above,
4. How does the painting make you feel?
5. What do you think the artist is expressing
in the painting?
When the research has been completed, each group
should prepare a presentation on their work of
art. They should cover major points from the questions,
discussing both the biography of the artist and
the specific work of art. By using the questions,
the groups can prepare an analysis of the painting.
Encourage the groups to involve all members in
the presentation. Students could plan to divide
the report in parts with each having a section,
or create a conversation between the members.
Another form of presentation could be for one
member to act the role of the artist (or another
authority on the artist) and for the other members
to ask questions.
On the day of the presentations, assemble the
groups with their reproductions and arrange an
exhibition in classroom or other space. Choose
a method for arranging the works of art. For example,
the works could be arranged in chronological order,
beginning with the earliest. Or, the arrangement
could be by geographical location, with sections
for the East, the South, the Midwest, the Far
West or other regions you have identified. Present
the method and discuss with the groups how their
works should go, then have the students place
them. Allow time for the entire class to walk
around and view the exhibition, then have the
groups present the reports as a "gallery
talk" that refers to the painting.
At the conclusion of the reports, each student
should write an exhibition label for two paintings.
One painting should be the one the student reported
on and the other should be a painting reported
on by another group. The label should include
the artist's name and the title of the painting.
It should have one sentence about the biography
of the artist and one sentence analyzing the painting.
1. Visit a museum in your area with landscape
paintings. Consult with museum for pre-visit planning
materials and/or guided tour options. Plan a visit
that will allow opportunities for students to
look at landscape paintings and analyze them.
2. Invite an artist who paints landscapes to
your class. Ask him/her to discuss background,
education, and ideas about art and the land. If
possible, have the artist give a painting demonstration.