Sidney Plains with the Union of the Susquehanna and Unadilla Rivers

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Sidney Plains with the Union of the Susquehanna and Unadilla Rivers

United States, 1874
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 42 1/16 × 71 7/8 in. (106.84 × 182.56 cm) Frame: 56 1/4 × 86 × 5 1/4 in. (142.88 × 218.44 × 13.34 cm)
Jessie R. McMahan Memorial and Museum Acquisition Fund (M.70.2)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Sidney Plains is an area in south-central New York State, between Binghamton and Oneonta, that Cropsey visited frequently on his trips to Niagara Falls and the Susquehanna River Valley....
Sidney Plains is an area in south-central New York State, between Binghamton and Oneonta, that Cropsey visited frequently on his trips to Niagara Falls and the Susquehanna River Valley. In the middle ground, at the extreme right, just below the hill with the white farmhouse flows the Unadilla River. A pencil drawing dated 1873 locates the exact spot Cropsey chose to delineate. In fact, the painting deviates little from the preparatory drawing and consequently takes on the character of a topographical record. It was just such numerous details presented on a large scale that critics such as Henry James found fault with when the painting was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design in 1875. During the eleven years following his return from England in 1863, Cropsey added to his growing reputation with a number of largescale, panoramic landscapes of northeastern American scenery. In Sidney Plains, as in the earlier Valley of Wyoming, 1865 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), he attempted to epitomize the settling of the wilderness. Cropsey depicted man’s encroaching on the wild landscape as he fenced in orchards and grazing fields for cows and sheep. Such expansion was then seen as "progress" and was associated with the advancement of modern technology, here indicated by the presence of telegraph poles and a distant train. The completion of the Erie Railroad line to Binghamton through the Alleghenies in 1848 had made the area more accessible to New York City. Cropsey’s landscape represents a nostalgic image of the settling of the American frontier. The railroad was crucial to the settlement of the American wilderness and in this painting may have had more than iconographic significance. Cropsey may have painted Sidney Plains for the railroad magnate John Taylor Johnston. There is conflicting information concerning the name of the original owner: when the landscape was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1875, the owner was listed as John H. Johnston, and literature thereafter referred to the owner as John N. Johnston or John J. Johnston. John T. Johnston was a collector of American painting and the first president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If he were the owner, Sidney Plains was not sold in 1876 when business circumstances forced him to sell much of his collection. John T. Johnston may have kept the painting or given it to his son, John Herbert Johnston, owner of the Tenth Street Studio Building, where many New York artists rented studios. Although John Taylor Johnston did not own the Erie Railroad pictured in Cropsey’s landscape, his Lehigh and Susquehanna line provided one of the links from the seaboard to the inland. Sidney Plains is painted in Cropsey’s characteristic autumnal palette, which, according to the color notes written on the preparatory drawing, he found in nature. The sun breaking through the moist haze has the appearance of shafts of light. Although they can be explained as a natural phenomenon, these pearly hued rays imply a divine blessing on the land and its settlement.
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About The Era

Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity....
Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity. The frontier moved westward as the forests of the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Alleghenys of the eastern seaboard were cleared and inhabited. Euro-American settlers pushed across the continent, through the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, until they reached the Pacific Ocean. Although the actual travels of explorers, government surveyors, and settlers can be traced through the changing locales in landscape paintings, such depictions were to a certain extent idealizations. In the romantic-realist tradition of the Hudson River school, artists emphasized the primitive character of the wilderness and presented the newly cultivated farmlands as agrarian oases divinely blessed by rainbows and golden mists.
Artists and writers promoted nature as a national treasure. However, the wealth of the land was measured in commercial as well as aesthetic terms. Railroads and axes appear in paintings as symbols of civilization, yet they also were instruments of destruction.
According to some, the nation was preordained by God to span the continent from coast to coast. In 1845 the editor John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” referring to the country’s duty to annex western territories and exploit their resources. The same railroad tycoons and land developers who promoted such a policy also commissioned artists to paint epic scenes of the American landscape. Manifest Destiny ignored the rights of Native Americans, who had inhabited the region long before European settlers arrived. Consequently, it is not surprising that Native Americans are absent from, or stereotyped in, most of the painted views of the land they called their home. The West seen in most nineteenth-century paintings was largely one of the imagination.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • Speiser, Anthony M., ed. Jasper Francis Cropsey: Catalogue Raisonné: Works in Oil: Volume Two: 1864-1884. Hastings-on-Hudson, NY: Newington-Cropsey Foundation, 2016.
  • Donahue, Kenneth.  X, a Decade of Collecting:  1965-1975.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1975.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
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