American Art and Nature

The subject of this painting is portrayed as the ideal American man, or rather a man encapsulating "de Crèvecœur-ian" ideals. Man is in solitude at one with the land and nature. Together they prosper and create the ideal society.
Bierstadt 's lavish and exquisitely detailed landscape of the Sierra Nevadas creates a sacred perspective of nature. The seemingly heavenly light elevates the mountains to almost unending heights. This painting seems to worship the newness and awesomeness of the nature of the American west.
Nature in this painting provides a romantic and macabre backdrop to Irving's classic tale. Nature takes on, or rather fuels the horrific and grotesque mood of the scene where the subjects seem almost overwhelmed by the forces surrounding them.
Abandoning historical contexts and general knowledge, one might think this scene is a pleasant one where the subjects are interacting with nature in harmony. However, the subjects are African American women picking cotton which would connote that they are enslaved.
At first glance this appears to be an idyllic landscape. However a closer inspection reveals orange iron run-off and pollution into the lake. The mining house is extremely small in comparison to the cliff behind it as to suggest man is insignificant to the power of nature as well as the power unleashed by the destruction of nature.
Nature in this majestically sublime landscape radiates supernatural beauty. Man, symbolized as the ship, is completely insignificant in comparison as to suggest the hopelessness of man's endeavors to explore and conquer nature.
Here man's struggle with nature is highlighted. The fisherman is seen in an heroic pose, bearing a cross formed by his oars, as he battles the incomprehensibly massive force of the ocean. This calls to mind many images present in Melville's Moby Dick.
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