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Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas

The Iconology of Waterscapes in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Culture

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Arne Neset

The nineteenth century was the great age of landscape painting in Europe and America. In an era of rapid industrialization and transformation of landscape, pictures of natural scenes were what people wanted most to display in their homes. The most popular and marketable pictures, often degenerating into kitsch, showed a wilderness with a pond or a lake in which obtrusive signs of industry and civilization had been edited out.
Inspired by Romantic ideas of the uniqueness of the nation, pictorial and literary art was supposed to portray the «soul» of the nation and the spirit of place, a view commonly adopted by cultural and art historians on both sides of the Atlantic. Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas argues that nationalistic or exceptionalist interpretations disregard deep-rooted iconological traditions in transatlantic culture. Depictions and ideas of nature go back to the classical ideas of Arcadia and Eden in which fountains, ponds, lakes, rivers, and finally the sea itself are central elements. Following their European colleagues, American artists typically portrayed the American Arcadia through the classical conventions.
Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas adopts the interdisciplinary and comparative methodological perspectives that characterize American studies. The book draws on art history, cultural history, literature, and the study of the production and use of visual images, and will serve well as a textbook for courses on American studies or cultural history of the Western world.