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1 Wallach, 334–39. Much of the recent scholarship on Cole has focused on his ambivalent ornegativeattitudetowardsland development,technologicalinnovation, andthe nation’s historical progress generally. See especially Truettner and Wallach; and Miller. Miller in particular concentrates on the way landscape painting thematizes concerns about historical progress throughout the nineteenth century. university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 M A T T J O H N S T O N National Spectacle from the Boat and from the Train: Moulding Perceptions of History in American Scenic Guides of the Nineteenth Century A recent Art Bulletin article by Alan Wallach explains how Thomas Cole’s River in the Catskills of 1843 (figure 1) registers the artist's anxiety about the destructive potential of modern improvements represented by the train, arguably the most potent symbol (and agent) of change in the nineteenth century. As Wallach observes, this work has served as an important milestone for generations of scholars who have charted the evolution of American landscape painting. Most of these scholars have focused on the way the genre has represented concerns about the nation’s future development at the outset of the most intense period of American territorial expansion and settlement. In one major strand of interpretation, Cole 1 normalizes the appearance of the train by hiding it within a traditional picturesque view of natural scenery. In this reading, the gazing foreground figure encourages protracted contemplation across a vast expanse, moving slowly along a pristine watercourse to the rail crossing and thence to the farming community and other clearings beyond, thus suggesting an easy transition to a pastoral idyll that industry does not disturb, an unproblematic narrative of historical progress. But as Wallach argues, ‘What would a landscape painting look like if it embodied a critical or negative representation of the railroad? ... Given the artistic means at Cole’s disposal ... it is difficult to believe that he would have painted a close-up view of a firebreathing , mechanical behemoth’ (343). Instead, according to Wallach, Cole manifests his displeasure subtly, evoking a specialized subgenre known as the pastoral while eliminating many of its constitutive details (so that where we would expect to find framing trees we find stumps, etc). Wallach’s argument depends on the intractability of aesthetic conventions , the inability of painting to represent critical views of historical progress that involved radical changes to existing pictorial norms and habits (343). Although more visceral, ‘close-up view[s] of ... fire-breathing, mechanical behemoth[s]’ did occasionally appear, as in Andrew Melrose’s 1022 matt johnston 2 Landscape studies are paying increasing attention to popular technologies of representation not traditionally associated with fine art, especially those of the nineteenth century, such as the panorama, the diorama, and the stereoscope. Crary’s Techniques of the Observer offers one of the most fully developed examinations of these popular visual entertainments , in particular how they reflect fundamental changes in subjectivity in relation to industrialization and other aspects of modernity. This paper addresses one such technology absent from Crary’s work, namely printed books, and how they modified a perennial concernof landscape painting, also not extensively treatedbyCrary, namely the perception of history. university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 1. Thomas Cole. River in the Catskills. 1843. Oil on canvas Westward the Star of Empire Takes Its Way of 1860 (figure 2), American landscape painting typically avoided getting too close to the train. Unlike painting, however, railroad publications frequently highlighted the unusual sights available to their customers from the train car window. In an image from Henry T. Williams’s Pacific Tourist (a guidebook produced shortly after the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad), the endangered deer of Melrose’s painting are shown grazing happily, undisturbed by the passing train, while the print also replicates the tangential, shearing perspective of a seated passenger (figure 3). Advances in print technology in the first half of the century (notably wood engraving and electrotyping), as well as the appeal of strange sights for a growing and largely expansionist reading public, encouraged an inventiveness in print illustrations generally. New periodicals such as Harper’s based their marketing strategies in large part upon the frequent and clever use of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 1021-1035
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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