The early nineteenth century witnessed the birth of photography as well as the steam engine, the telegraph, and countless other life-altering innovations. Points of Departure, featuring European and American paintings, photography, and works on paper from the BAM/PFA collection, surveys these rapidly moving currents of modernization and the various reactions to it through the lens of visual culture.
View of Providence, Rhode Island, painted in the mid-1820s by an unknown American artist, captures the coastal city on the brink of transition from a pioneer village to a bustling center of commerce. The First Unitarian Church (then called the First Congregational Church) dominates this compact panorama of the businesses along South Water Street. Photography, introduced in 1839, was also used to document urban progress, as in Charles Marville’s views of old Paris, commissioned by the city in the late 1850s as demolition made way for extensive modernization.
In the second half of the nineteenth century a growing number of painters moved their primary “studio” activities outdoors and into nature, fleeing the rampant modernization of urban life. Theodore Rousseau, along with with such artists as Millet and Corot, left Paris and settled in the rural village of Barbizon in order to focus on the light and form of the countryside, as in Forest of Fontainebleau (1855–56). Paul Gauguin abandoned Paris to join a community of artists in a remote village in Brittany, where he painted Still Life with Quimper Pitcher (1889).
Views of the American West both captured vanishing histories and proposed a new future. Army photographer Laton Huffman’s After the Buffalo Chase (1879) offers as a haunting testimony. Albert Bierstadt, who began traveling to the Yosemite Valley and the Sierras in the early 1870s via the new Transcontinental Railroad, was internationally acclaimed for paintings such as Yosemite Winter Scene (1872) that envisioned the American West as a post-Civil War American Eden.
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)
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