"The mountains were grand, yesterday. Still are,
since I can see the Blue Ridge from both my windows. . . .
The fall coloring is splendid here–yellow hickory and red gum and sumach and laurel with the blue-green
pines. It's just grand."
– William Faulkner, 1931
The images on this web site help illustrate the importance of the Virginia landscape in shaping the commonwealth
and the development of its identity. This online exhibit is derived from the major exhibition, The Virginia Landscape,
which was on view at the Virginia Historical Society from July through November 2000.
The physical exhibition featured more than 240 landscape paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs, dating from the
colonial period to
the present, and revealed much about Virginia's natural history and the attitudes of its citizens. This web site presents a
modest sample of the artwork from the collections of the Virginia Historical Society. The catalog
presents a detailed overview of the exhibition.
Initially, the commonwealth was best known for its natural landmarks like the Dismal Swamp, the Peaks
of Otter, and Natural Bridge. Visitors traveled great distances–even across oceans–just to see
these wonders. With the fame of such historic landmarks as Mount Vernon, Monticello,
Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia soon became known also as a place where significant
American history unfolded. Artists painted these sites as a way to remember history. Other
canvases illustrate the effect of twentieth-century patterns of growth on the natural environment.
The Virginia Landscape examined the land and the cultural and historic changes that
occurred in the commonwealth during the last four centuries. It traced the rural settlement of the
colony and state along the models of the plantation and market town, and examined the meaning
of progress in Virginia by following the visual record of urban growth and the construction of
canals and railroads. It surveyed Virginia's Civil War landscape, which in 1864 inspired Walt
Whitman's interest: "Dilapidated, fenceless, and trodden with war as Virginia is, wherever I
move across her surface, I find myself rous'd to surprise and admiration. What capacity for
production, improvements, human life, nourishment and expansion." The exhibit followed the
path of landscape imagery to the end of the twentieth century, when a tradition of nature painting
finally was established in the state, in defiance of environmental threats to the land. [View images]
Image rights owned by the Virginia Historical Society. Do not use without permission.
Rights and reproductions
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