The Emerald Pool
Revisiting a Once-Iconic White Mountain Landmark
Edwards Art Gallery, The Holderness School, Sept. 17 – Oct. 22, 2019
America’s relationship to nature has changed drastically since 1870, when Albert Bierstadt elevated a slice of New Hampshire scenery to an icon of pristine natural beauty in his east-coast masterwork, The Emerald Pool. I wanted this series to reflect that change.
Nineteenth-century artists such as Bierstadt used the landscape to illustrate nature as a kind of Eden, a metaphor for the country’s God-ordained prosperity, the “new World” as untouched and awe-inspiring Promised Land.
But what does it mean to paint the American landscape today? Our relationship to the natural world is one of global degradation, conflict, and uncertainty. How to account for this – without denying the beauty and awe that derives from direct experience?
Like Bierstadt, I went to nature and made studies at the site and completed larger work in the studio. But whereas Bierstadt re-invented the scene to convey a sense of peace and grandeur, I focused on the unstable surface of the pool itself and its fluctuating reflections, distortions, and deceptions.
Ideally, I hoped to inscribe into the paintings’ surfaces a feeling of something anxious, elusive, or broken. It helped me to think of them at times like shattered stained-glass windows, perhaps emblematic of the loss of divinity, with an intuition of darkness behind the beauty.
- Christopher Volpe, 2019