Currier & Ives after Artist Unknown (American, 19th Century), The Great Fire at Boston, Nov. 9 & 10, 1872, 1872.
Extreme Nature! examines how nature’s extremes—remote, fantastical, and unpredictable—permeated artistic imagery throughout the nineteenth century. During this period, news outlets detailed natural disasters around the globe, researchers defined modern scientific fields, and authors like Jules Verne popularized the science fiction genre. More than thirty-five prints, drawings, photographs, and books included in the exhibition explore how artists absorbed and responded to emerging research in the physical and life sciences to probe nature—from volatile weather patterns and celestial activity to the earth’s cavernous depths.
Extreme Nature! is organized by Michael Hartman, a 2018 graduate of the Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art, which is jointly administered by the Clark. “Michael brings a fresh and informed curatorial perspective to works on paper in the Clark’s collection,” said Olivier Meslay, the Hardymon Director of the Clark. “The exhibition provides a fascinating consideration of many rarely-seen works. It is an excellent representation of the value of the collaboration between the Clark and Williams College in preparing the next generation of art historians.”
Artists seeking to mitigate nature’s unknown dangers transformed hazardous events into awe-inspiring portrayals of natural phenomena, which enabled viewers to imagine the extent of nature’s boundaries and its destructive potential. “The images on view illuminate how the birth of modern scientific disciplines and the rise of popular science influenced artists and drove the public consumption of images and experiences,” said Hartman. “These sensational works on paper allow visitors to immerse themselves in the spectacle of nature’s extremes.”
Extreme Nature! presents images of natural subjects—some documentary, some invented, and many a fusion of the two—across four thematic sections: Natural Disaster, Alluring Landscapes, Volatile Atmospheres, and Extremes Imagined.
(Photo courtesy of Clark Art Institute.)