Catalogue entry: In a celebration of both American nature and industry, Jasper Francis Cropsey highlights the Starrucca railroad viaduct, nestled in the Susquehanna River Valley above the village of Lanesboro, in northeastern Pennsylvania. Built by the New York and Erie Railroad in 1847-48, the viaduct was among the great American engineering feats of its time. Its scale dwarfs the old-fashioned wooden bridge in the middle distance that leads to the village. In nineteenth-century landscape painting, the railroad was often seen as a symbol either of industrial progress and change or of man's destruction and exploitation of nature. In this painting Cropsey seems to suggest through the reflective attitude of the figures gazing over the valley toward the train and by the dominance of the undisturbed foreground wilderness, that nature can absorb the effects of technology without adverse consequences. The composition's overall emphasis, however, is not on the narrative but on the beauty and serenity of the Susquehanna River Valley. Industry remains a small, romanticized counterpoint to the resplendent autumn foliage. Cropsey was a member of the Hudson River School, an important group of nineteenth-century American landscape painters, and was strongly influenced stylistically and thematically by the work of its founder, Thomas Cole (see 1949.162). Like Cole, he sketched extensively in nature, primarily in upstate New York and New England, compiling his direct observations of nature into ideal landscapes. He, too, saw painting as a moral enterprise meant to evoke appropriately elevated thoughts and feelings, but in order to emphasize the serenity of nature he reduced the narrative and symbolic details in his work so that they were less overwhelming and more evocative. The emphasis on nature's tranquility and the penchant for fall's brilliant colors are hallmarks of Cropsey's late landscapes.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott