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East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography

Niagara Falls

From the might of Niagara Falls to the grandeur of the Mississippi River, the landscape of the eastern half of the United States served as a powerful source of mythmaking for a nation finding its identity in the nineteenth century. While painters who depicted the stirring scenery of the East have long been recognized, photographers inspired by the same sites have often been overlooked, their work eclipsed by photographs of the West. With some 175 photographs in a variety of media and formats, this exhibition charts the trajectory of landscape photography east of the Mississippi over the course of sixty years — from the earliest known landscape daguerreotypes taken in the United States in 1839 and 1840 to the meditative prints Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen made at the close of the century. These photographs constitute a rich chapter of America’s visual culture, revealing much about the preoccupations of a young and growing country.

Avalanche Lake, Adirondacks

Photographers often sought out scenes of unaltered beauty in the eastern half of the country, but were equally fascinated by the built environment in and around cities, from Boston and Philadelphia to New Orleans. Coupling the documentary with the aesthetic, they trained their cameras on the transformations wrought by the Civil War and by new enterprises including tourism and industrialization, particularly the advent of the railroad. Initially celebrating the march of progress, eastern photographers later addressed the destruction of the wilderness and the need for its preservation. Balancing nature and culture, the photographs on display present a vision of a nation filled with natural wonders, brimming with innovation, and undergoing rapid yet unstoppable change.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Trellis Fund.

Additional funding is kindly provided by Kate and Wes Mitchell.

Above: Niagara Falls, c. 1860, albumen print, Collection of Nancy and Thomas Sterling

Below: Seneca, Ray Stoddard, American, 1843–1917, Cascade Lake, Adirondacks, 1870s–1880s, albumen print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Diana and Mallory Walker Fund and Veverka Family Foundation Fund