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Oregon’s landscape has long inspired artists, from her native peoples to the settlers who arrived in the 19th century. Awed by the pristine landscape and towering volcanic mountains, the new arrivals to the Northwest impressed their patrons on both coasts with luminous views in the Hudson River School style. William Samuel Parrott and Eliza Barchus were early Northwest painters well recognized for their heroic landscape paintings. Shortly after the beginning of the 20th century, Impressionism arrived in the West and plein air painting became a dominant mode of expression. The mountains, ocean, and wide open spaces of Eastern Oregon were often depicted directly and honestly with lively brushstrokes in beautiful soft color by artists such as C. E. S. Wood, Charles C. McKim, and Clyde Leon Keller. Landscape continued to play a central role from the 1930s well into the 1950s as a more regionalist approach to the landscape became popular during the Great Depression. Oregon’s leading artists often combined social realism with a modernist appropriation of cubism. Artists C.S. Price, Charles Heaney, and Amanda Snyder employed cubist principals and the rain-darkened palette of the Northwest to create powerful geometric landscapes. As abstraction grew in popularity during the mid-century, artists continued to be wooed by the majestic environment. Carl Morris, Louis Bunce, Hank Kowert, and LaVerne Krause fostered contemporary approaches to painting that owed a lasting debt to Oregon’s natural beauty. Contemporary artists are often concerned with the negative effects of humans on the landscape, spawning a wealth of politically conscious artists that use their work to convey a political message; Adam Sorensen and Michael Brophy are two such artists.
As part of the Portland Art Museum’s ongoing Northwest Art Initiative, Picturing Oregon aims to make these myriad depictions of the state of Oregon—paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, and more—accessible to the Museum’s local and global audiences. Funded in part by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Picturing Oregon adds a layer of geographic cataloging to works in the Museum’s permanent collection that depict the dynamic urban and rural landscape of Oregon from the settlement of the state in the 19th century to the present day. To learn more about the historic and contemporary locations that appear in works from our collection, click on the Places terms that appear as hyperlinks in the Details section of artwork records throughout Online Collections. If you recognize a place that is not yet linked, email us at PDXCollections@pam.org or direct message us on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll add it!