“Pastorals, Landscapes, and the Arcadian Vision,” on view at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery from June 10 through September 9, explores how artists for centuries have rendered nature in a tranquil, idyllic form. The exhibition, housed in Cohen Memorial Hall on the Peabody campus, features more than 50 paintings and works on paper from England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.
A sense of nostalgia and longing for a return to the simple life first found voice more than 2,000 years ago in the work of Theocritus (316-260 BCE), the creator of ancient Greek bucolic poetry. Following in his footsteps, the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE), in his Eclogues and Georgics, popularized the simple Arcadian shepherd, a rustic type who was thought to subsist solely on the meat and milk of his goats. Arcadia is a mountainous region located in the Peloponnesian peninsula. In ancient Greece, its very remoteness from civilized society, represented by Athens, equated to country life in its purest form.
From its inception, the idea of Arcadia, focused on an idealized landscape inhabited by simple shepherds tending their flocks, was a fiction created for an educated, urban audience. They consumed this rustic, pure space through poetry and visual arts, which have worked in tandem over the centuries to conceptualize the majesty of nature and man’s relation to it.
Holdings from the University’s art collection begin to relate the story through the seventeenth-century Dutch Italianate painters and printmakers Jan Both and Nicolaes Berchem and with delightful, intimate etchings by the Dutch genre artist Adriaen van Ostade. These works reflect the widely held contemporary view that nature should be improved upon in poetry and painting.
The exhibition traces the steady popularity of landscapes in France through the works of Claudine Stella (1636–1697), Philippe Caresme (1734–1796) and Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867). Additionally, there are two small woodcuts by Aristide Maillol (1861–1944), created as illustrations to Virgil’s pastoral poems, Georgics and Eclogues.
Also included are paintings and prints by English and American artists. While the dates of these landscapes span several centuries, the close connection between poetry and the visual arts is the thread that links them together. Thomas Nason’s Connecticut Pastoral (1936) represents the longevity of this relationship, as Nason was one of Robert Frost’s primary illustrators in the early 20th century.
“Pastorals, Landscapes and the Arcadian Vision” is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph Mella, director, with support provided by the Ewers Gift for Fine Art and the Sullivan Art Collection Fund.
Free and open to the public, the gallery is on the second floor of Cohen Memorial Hall, located at 1220 21st Avenue South on the Peabody College campus. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon–4 p.m.; Saturday, 1–5 p.m.; and closed Sunday and Monday and July 4 in observance of Independence Day. For more information, visit the gallery’s website or call 615-322-0605.
“The Herdsman’s Cottage” or “Sunset” by Samuel Palmer, 1850