Past Time presents a wide range of works made by European and American artists from the 1770s to the 1890s who were engaged with a new scientific investigation of the earth. Western artistic interest in the elemental features of the earth’s crust—its hard, outer layers of rocks—rose to great heights in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, as modern geology became popular among audiences in Europe and America. In this golden age of art and science, artists travelled widely to explore the land, taking keen note of earth’s prominent surface features in their watercolours, drawings, and oil sketches. These media enabled freshness, spontaneity, and convenience for artists and travellers observing and transcribing nature.
This beautifully illustrated, interdisciplinary volume explores this compelling interest in dramatic geologic features—caves and natural arches, boulders and rock formations, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, and cliffs. From a topographical, often strata-focused interest to a later mode that evoked nature’s great transformational powers over time, artists including Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, John Singer Sargent, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, J. M. W. Turner, Joseph Wright of Derby, and Thomas Rowlandson pursued their cross-cultural travels in seeking and portraying geological wonders.
Patricia Phagan is the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Jill S. Schneiderman is professor of earth science in the Department of Earth Science and Geography at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.