11/24/2013 ameriwet

Reflection on Autumn Woods

Working in the Phillips, I am lucky enough to pass by the Hudson River exhibition on a weekly basis on my way to the downstairs office. Despite my good fortune, however, I have failed to take adequate time to thoroughly reflect on many of the pieces included in the exhibition. Perhaps this is due to my belief that I would have plenty of time to view the paintings at my convenience, since I encounter them every Wednesday and Friday, but in turn, often leads to perpetual procrastination. Then again, I may have simply let my busyness get the best of me, and let the show blend into the blur of my periphery. Whatever the case, I finally found a moment to engage with a few of the paintings, and was immediately drawn into one in particular, namely, Autumn Woods by Albert Bierstadt.

The massive size of the painting immerses the viewer by taking up the entire visual field, almost like the abstract works of Cleve Gray or Cy Twombly that are meant to envelope the subject. The texture of the vibrant leaves and detailed rendering of the light amongst the pond and trees is marvelous; however, what truly gripped me about the painting was not merely what was present on the canvas itself, but the memories which it conjured in me. As my eyes moved from the reflections of the leaves in the pond to the thickness of the forest at the water's edge, I found myself immediately confronted with an image of a pond in South Carolina that my Grandfather used to take me to as child. Flashes of a bamboo pole with a red and white sinker, a small trout flopping on the weathered wooden dock, the steepness of the muddied banks, all rushed into my perception of the painting. Standing in front of Autumn Woods, I realized I was looking at two moments in time simultaneously: the day in 1910 that Bierstadt has captured so eloquently and my own experience as a child.

Reflecting on the experience, the value of landscape painting becomes ever more apparent. The world around us as we move about our daily lives is for the most part a colorful blotch on the edge of our attention, as we are often focused on one specific task or another. What paintings such as Autumn Woods provide is a step back from this focused approach to the world. Bierstadt and other painters from the Hudson River School capture a complete moment in time during which we can reflect not only on the details present in the painting, but also the specific components of experiences from our own life that we thought had faded into the ether of memory.

-Andrew Meriwether '14, Digital Media Assistant 

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