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Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment

Fri Dec 15 2017 – Sun Dec 9 2018

Seattle Art Museum

Fourth Floor Galleries

Like today’s storm chasers who run toward danger, the people in these paintings from more than 200 years ago risked personal safety to explore the unknown or encounter nature at its fiercest. Some were driven by scientific interest, others by a desire to experience the sublime—a kind of pleasurable terror at the immensity and turbulence of the natural world.

Mount Vesuvius, in southwestern Italy, erupted several times in the late 18th century. Its breathtaking but deadly light show attracted visitors from all over Europe, including the painter Pierre-Jacques Volaire, who made the subject a personal specialty. Closer to our home in the Pacific Northwest, French sailors on a global expedition were trying to map uncharted Alaskan territory in July 1786 when a sudden change in the current flooded their boats and drowned 21 men. The painting of this tragic episode, commissioned by the brother of two of the doomed men and owned by the family until now, is a new acquisition for the Seattle Art Museum.

Image: Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, 1806, Louis-Philippe Crepin, French, 1772-1851, oil on canvas, 40 15/16 × 58 11/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, European Art Acquisition Fund; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund; by exchange Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband; Gift of Arthur F. Ederer; H. Neil Meitzler, Issaquah, Washington; Col. Philip L. Thurber Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick; The late Mr. Arrigo M. Young and Mrs. Young in memory of their son, Lieut. (j.g.) Lawrence H. Young; Phillips Morrison Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Oswald Brown, in memory of her parents Simeon and Fannie B. Leland; Gift of Miss Grace G. Denny in memory of her sister Miss Coral M. Denny; Gift of friends in memory of Frank Molitor; Purchased from funds contributed in memory of Henry H. Judson; Purchased from the bequest of Charles M. Clark; Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr.; Norman and Amelia Davis Collection; Norman Davis Collection; Mrs. Cebert Baillargeon, in memory of her husband, 2017.15.