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tv   American Artifacts Alexander von Humboldt the United States Exhibit  CSPAN  January 1, 2021 8:00pm-8:40pm EST

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weather is the situation room experience, or something please contact us and we're very excited to have an impact in education. and with that thank you. >> thanks a lot duke. i am eleanor harvey on the curator of the exhibition. art major and culture. it's a great pleasure to be able to introduce you to this amazing man this amazing
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exhibition, and the journey that we are going to take in early america art in history. the gentleman you see over here is alexander vaughan humble. he was a german naturalists who basically was one of the most widely recognized and admired men alive in the 19th century. we wanted you to see his friends thomas jefferson, the people that admired him frederick douglass to people that were inspired by him karl seguin, rachel carson, teddy roosevelt john you were. all of the things that are named as an act of homage to a man who was one of the most widely and i've mired and profoundly i might admired man in the 19th century. he wrote over 30 books he corresponded with over many individuals. he called coffee concentrated sunbeams and he came up with
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was an radical idea that all of nature was interconnected. that one happens in the alps could predict what you saw in the andes in the rocky mountains. the climate was global and not local. where you found plants, and what altitude you found them could tell you a lot about the local ecosystem. it's a concept we take for granted these days, but at the time it was a new way to think. and he spent 50 years amassing the data from around the globe though it let him put together something he called the web of life, or the unity of nature. what does any of this have to do with american art and culture? in 1804 after spending five years traveling through south america and mexico, he was on his way home and made a pit stop in cuba in order to assemble all of his belongings the american consul said says you love the concept of the
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united states. you think american democracy could be a model for the future. you want to meet thomas jefferson. you are this close why would you leave now? and he convinces him to take a detour. and for six weeks, humboldt will be in philadelphia and washington hanging around humboldt with some of the leading artists, menace science and politicians. it will shape the course of our is three for the next 50 years. this is basically how old humboldt was when we first met him. he looks happy and his environment, his fame are barometer is down here in the left corner. he is pressing plans and his travel journals and he's looking at you with that mona lisa smile that says i'm having the world's best time and you should follow me. and so we did when he first arrived in the united states, he's a little worried that he is not important enough for the president to pay attention to him. he writes him a letter which we
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have here, in which he explains, i love the declaration of independence. i've read your notes on the state of virginia. and by the way, you have this thing about mammoths so do i. i found mammoth teeth in the andes. could i come visit? and jefferson had been tipped off by the consul you really want to meet this guy because in addition to him being charismatic and wonderful and really interesting, he spent the last year in mexico creating the most detailed map of north america that is going to change the way we negotiate with the king of spain after the louisiana purchase. jefferson has an agenda, humboldt has an agenda and the two men forged a friendship that will last the rest of jefferson's life. this is the thing that brought them together. when you get right down to it this is the first most complete skeleton of a mass the dawn.
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they thought it was a mammoth and i'll explain a little bit about that later. this was dug up in upstate new york, installed in charles wilson museum and this is the creature that literally helps bring jefferson, humboldt american art and culture altogether. let's figure out how that works. if you walk into this first room, it really is about those six weeks in the united states. this is splash down. this is where he meets jefferson and this is the relative ages at which they are when they meet. this humble at age 35, jefferson at age 65. both painted by members of the people family. america's first family of artists this is the relationship that will energize the way we think about exploration, the way we think about nature and the way we think about our natural
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standing on the international stage. i mentioned the map. this is it this is the copy we made of it. this is humboldt a map of mexico, texas, the southwestern united states, baja california if you zoom in you will find santa fe appear, the location of the command she indian tribes, and most important for us. this is the biggest geopolitical gift we could have been given at this time. spain is furious that napoleon has sold louisiana to these upstart americans rather than back to them. so now jefferson is negotiating with a very annoyed king of spain over what is the new border between our two countries. spain is arguing for the river which divides louisiana from texas in modern geography. and humboldt saying what's really wanted the rio grande.
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that will be the tension that won't really be solved until after the 1846 war with mexico when we completely reset the border. what jefferson has been asking is what is going on in here. will lives there? is their agriculture or their mountains are the rivers? and he's like there's i'm happy to share even though he is traveling on a spanish passport, he believes knowledge should be shared by everyone. he's willing to give us a six year head start on a map that he will eventually publish. i'm sure the king of spain wasn't particularly pleased about that but humboldt was. that's the important thing he is on our side, he is in our corner. he wants us to succeed. he is looking for a new style of government that is not monarchy and colonialism. what he desperately wants is for america to live up to its ideals. those are the ideals as written
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by jefferson himself in the declaration of independence. when humboldt shows up on the philadelphia docks, the man who rescues him and takes him under his wing is charles wilson peel. is the patriarch of the peel family of artists, this is his museum. the first one in the united states. he is welcoming you into a place that is a combination of art and natural history, and a civics lesson. he believes what we have here will help people develop pride in their own country. for instance, the top portraits are all of the great american statesman. that is george washington in the upper left. not coincidentally, right over the case that has the ball the eagle. the national bird. i wonder if it's a little bit of a dig that it is poor ben franklin's turkey that is awaiting taxidermy in the lower left corner before tens of joining all of the rest of the
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specimens, and of course behind peel himself is that mastered on skeleton. tucked behind there. that is the artifacts that helped put us really in the public eye in europe as well as america. in 1801, when this mastered on skeleton is excavated, it is considered the largest tillis terrestrial bill being. we are several years away from understanding dinosaurs at this point. right now it's the mammoth. mammoth everything becomes like the objective for the united states. in 1802, the town of western massachusetts makes a 15 foot wide wheel it she's call the mammoth cheese which they put on a flat bread cart and on horses bring it down to washington to deliver it to the mammothm]3z.y-in-chief which is jefferson. someone else makes a loaf of
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bread the size of a cascade call the mammoth bread. there is a man with egg eating contest which reminds me of cold hand loop, and what you have is this celebration of the mammoth as the scale and scope of our cultural ambitions. from our president, to our foods to our manufacturing, to our prospects. st. louis inquired out west and what you will come back with is new mammoth features. whether it's mammoth cave in kentucky, or whether it is in fact the mammoth bones that will come out of the big bone like along the kentucky ohio border. every time we go further west, we come back with bigger, greater more impressive landmarks. whether it's the great plains, yellowstone, yosemite, the grand canyon and begin to see how the mammoth itself sets the tone for the scale of the features that will eventually be our national monuments.
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and the time got humboldt is here, loosen clark has just left, he's actually upset because you want to chase after them. he is not convinces their instruments are as good as his, and i says i got a redo they are doing and they haven't even gotten back yet. he keeps saying this country that stretches west of these mountains, presents a vast area to conquer for science. when he is saying to us is you cannot build your way to the top of the hierarchy in europe. the seven wonders of the world, all those architectural monuments that are the product of millennia of human ambition, it's like you're way behind on that. when you have his nature. when you have is everything west of these mountains where you could contribute to science is what's gonna put you on the map. play to your strengths, what's what is already here. for a while it is the mammoth. in fact people will come out of
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retirement he kind of galvanized by humboldt visit a will come out a retirement and he says i think i have one more great is repainting in me and that's this. that is the exhumation of the masted on. this is peels painting, where he shows himself and his family and his entourage and the american philosophical society and all of the workers. they're executing the bones from that pit in upstate new york. it filled in with water, you can see the thunderstorms going on in the background, it's like a peat bog. it's acidic and groupie but it is farmland if you can get this stuff out of the way. here is john mast and the former on this ladder. you see right behind him, there is a shirtless worker who is holding one of the lower leg bones. peel has his template with that lower leg bone so that he is confirming when they are
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bringing out of the pit. if you look near the water wheel you could see teeth, and other small bones. as they begin to literally excavate american identity out of the primordial whose. what i love about this painting is for students of american painting, the hudson river school, the idea that landscape convey's our national mandate, it starts here. 20 years before thomas koch will start painting in the cats scales this american history moment going on. it's a magnificent picture and it really says a great deal about the way that peel sees himself, at the center of all this. this is the first masters on skeleton has been put together, how the heck do you know what you are doing? what's peel assumed correctly as it turns out is, its closest
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modern relative is an elephant. so his son rembrandt, creates a drying based on a french engraving of an elephant skeleton. this is what they are using as they are bringing bones out of the muck. they're holding them up against a template saying where does this one go. to me it's like the ikea instruction manual and all you really need is the island ranch. here you have scrappy love, numerous, radius they're all marked just the way they would if you are opening the box to put something together. the fact that he was able to do this and he's the first to do this is something that resonates in the european scientific community, and really establishes are bound to feed us as a society new as we are, capable of contributing at the highest level to an international conversation about science. when he puts the bones together, and his youngest son will make a water color of the bones and
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you will notice that there are parts that are stippled in. those are the pieces that were missing that would have to be fabricated. the top of the head, the tusks, the bottom of the ribs. let's talk a little bit about the skeleton itself. what's peel is able to do throughout the beauty of bilateral symmetry, if he has the rights calculus and tack, and he only has a partial left, he knows how to carve the missing piece. so moses williams, is free man of color who works in the museum with peel, assists with william russia was the leading 'u÷often does ships figureheads, he is the one that will sculpt the missing pieces. take a really close look at this color, this capital here you can see that the bottom lobe, you can actually see the wood grain. there is a peg smack in the middle of it. and the piece above it is also would that is literally pieced
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into this larger curved bone. when you start paying close attention, you will begin to see the pugs that hold the skeletons together. the lower parts of the ribs which didn't survive excavation, they are dovetailed in and the bottom's or would captain metal. the upper part of the cranium is soft, like a baby skull. all throughout the mammoth life because if it were solid bone, the chances are it would be too heavy for the mammoth to lift. so it's a spongy. they don't tend to survive excavation is often. people was able to find in a different dig, the top of a skull. rather than mix and match in good modern scientific authenticity, he kept his digs separate. and he simply made the copies that he needed in order to complete this. the tusks came out of the moral pit, and then crumbled.
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again because of the acidity of the soil. they knew they were about five feet long, they roughly knew that they were curve. but they have to fabricate them. as a matter of weight, they were papier-mâché. that is not unusual for skeletons like this. the ones that use real tests often have crunch like our matures down below them to keep them from simply falling out of the sockets. there's nothing to hold them on. the way i think about the skeleton, it's the largest mixed media sculpture in american art museum at the earliest possible date. this is peels artistic and scientific rendering of what to do with those bones, how to sculpt the missing pieces, and how to give us back the very first natural monument if you will around which to construct our identity. or at least our sense of ourself. this went on view christmas eve
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in 1801. ushers in the year of the mammoth in 1802 year i arrives in 1802 and in fact saying the week before he will leave for europe he will host a dinner for him in the mammoth room at his museum and the tables will be set around and underneath the mask done. and is underneath the creature that he helped elevate as part of who we think we are. when people take some around philadelphia introduce him to the american scientific community. which makes him a member as he is departing for europe. when he comes to washington it is people who sets up the trip with jefferson. so he will spend two and a half weeks in washington d.c., probably around with jefferson, secretary of state james madison and secretary of the treasury they will pore over
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maps, those top stories about exploration and science. i will say mean things about napoleon because, nobody really likes him and that's the competition that enters his entire life because now him in the polling are born to the entire the same here. and he is really ticked off that napoleon is more popular than he is. it sets off this tension empires that he will be involved in. what we have is jefferson being able to say to humbled we value the fact that what you are planning to do in the sciences will take american data and folded into your larger room brick about how all nature in the entire world is all connected. what's once most of us is to live up to our ideals. he wants us to be that nation where all men are created equal. he wants us to be the avatar for all society that are
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unhappy with monarch cocoa or imperial rule. to have democracy take its place. he will become an increasingly revolutionary man in europe between the time that he means jefferson and the 1848 european revolution it kind of starts here when he leaves were all kind of exhilarated. we're waiting for lewis and clark to get back. it can't wait to see when they bring back from those from west of those mountains. for lewis and clark has no clue that has been there. when they get back here is jefferson who's like well what about this, what about that and what about the other did you measure this in measure that? and he said that wasn't in the instructions. but lewis and clark come back to is the excitement of what they did come back, but also the sense of somehow they might have fallen short because change the calculus. he raised the expectations.
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and what's jefferson wants more than anything else is to be able to feed the caliburn quantity of the data that is so enthusiastic about. that's where we are in 1804, 1805. we are exhilarated. we are euphoric. we have tied our history and our sense of future on to the scale of the mammoth. what happens when george convening the leading scientist in paris is comparing mammoth bones from siberia to the ones in north america, he is teasing out that there's a difference between a mammoth and a master. don i've called this amendment so far because that's would jefferson and humble thought it was when they met. it is a master don and when who va delivers the news congratulations you have amassed don jefferson is not that thrill because what he realizes is it means it's extinct. it's a little hard to build
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your national identity around something that no longer exists. in fact the leading european scientists who thinks we are less than in the general than europe on principal says well if it had been that great it would've been would've been died out jefferson is now on the horns of a different dilemma. how do you keep the sense of the mammoth when you can't really use the mammoth or the mastered on as you're -- what you do is go back to and his discussion about natural monuments. the two natural monuments that we adopt first comes straight out of jefferson's notes on the state of virginia, straight out of early writings and they are natural bridge, and niagara falls. natural bridge in jefferson's home state of virginia considered the largest arch of its kind at the time. it was actually the land in the arch were owned by jefferson at the time. this is a painting in which
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jefferson has put a great deal of stock. it is large, it is impressive it's sublime. he gives you a headache when you lean over. and what's even better is its patriotic. you'll notice the black man in the foreground here. that is patrick henry who was a free man of color, living there at the time that jefferson on this property. can i the absentee landlord in the local tour guide. would he is pointing to up the left-hand side of the arch are george washington's initials. presumably scratched into the rock 23 feet up the side when he surveyed this feature for lord rock bridge in the 17 fifties. this is a historically resident landscape that folds in george washington, the founding of the nation, nature-ism as a major as an avatar, jefferson as president. when writes about the natural bridges in south america, he specifically and explicitly
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medicines mentions jefferson by name. saying this is an arch-similar to the one owned by that great seventh in the united states, the third president thomas jefferson. he is deliberately wrapping us into his narrative. in fact, one of my favorite anecdotes is when jefferson right to the artist john trumbull, saying i really want you to take a detour come to natural bridge before some european artist comes here in bungles it. he's clearly looking for american artists to end up creating the icon for an american landmark. for niagara falls, 800 miles away in upstate new york, the cataract is an impressive sight. it becomes a pilgrimage site shortly after visit. when he talks about the -- in columbia, will reference niagara so you understand that tech adama is a vertical fall,
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and niagara is a horizontal fall. he will compare the cubic feet of water that will be going over the rim at any given moment. again bringing us into parallel with the other wonders around the world. specifically in the americas. how do we know that these two features become the next avatars of american ambition? in 1825, henry as tan or creates the map that uses information, all this detailed information way down into mexico, but it's the car to. car two she is on maps are kind of -- most european maps the cartouche will be a cityscape, a landmark, a man-made landmark. it's a way of encapsulating but it is we want you to care about. so what did we do as the cartouche? we take natural bridge, and
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niagara falls and scooch the 800 miles together, so it looks like it's the niagara river that is running underneath natural bridge, so our two major natural monuments are functioning as one element in the american landscape. i find that very telling. i think the idea that we would deliberately do that, knowing that as a cartography does niagara falls is down here and natural bridges down here. that idea is more important than picking one of them and making it the top of graphical centerpiece. from there, we also understand is there are an enormous number of paintings and drawings and engravings natural ridge and niagara falls. if you look at the sheer numbers of that is done by hundreds of artists, it replaces that up traction, they have an audience and there's a certain amount of civic pride that comes through nature, rather than again anything that we are building on it.
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the artists that humboldt deeply inspires after the peels is andrew church. here's the artists that created both this version of natural bridge and that version of niagara falls. i thought that was important that the artist who is called the american humble by one of the art critics of the day recognized in his own lifetime how much he owed to humboldt. when humboldt says as we put up on the wall nature and are completely united in my work. what he is saying is scientists need to maintain an aesthetic appreciation for the world around them. what's the point if you can't feel wonder? science to do justice to their subjects. and church really runs with that. his entire career, not just when he goes to south america inspired by humboldt, but when he is that niagara falls, or natural bridge or anywhere else
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where he goes in his career. humboldt infuses churches working practice. church had the luxury of growing up on humboldt writings. humboldt begins publishing english in 1811 with views of the court of law, and by time churches born in 1820 weaker and becomes artist in the 18 forties, humboldt is something he is steeped in. church will not go west of the mississippi, will delay any trip to europe. is two major champs early in his career outside of the united states are to south america, they are both inspired directly by humboldt. there are really guidebooks to south america at this point. it is still part and parcel a very foreign place to get to. he is using humboldt books. he specifically using views of the court a letter as which on
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the best title pages in the 19th century volume. what he is doing is he is reading humboldt at night and literally kind of reenacting his hikes and trips the next day. we're dealing with a fanboy. or dealing with the guy was on the humboldt reunion tour. humboldt is there in the early 1800s humboldt churches there in the fifties, and they are staying in the same has the endless that humboldt was in. this is owned by one of humboldt companions from ecuador, they are in the valley next to -- this area knows the head of the inca. he has chosen the exact4 vantage point, as showed up on the front of the piece here as though he took that vignette, and expanded to view. but he is literally staying in the same places, following the
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same terrain, sketching and painting the volcanoes in the andes that humble just adored. he's giving us a visual record of what it is like to follow in humboldt footsteps. how deeply steeped is church? i'll give you an idea. this is one of humboldt large and colored geographical albums. this is what will humboldt his self publishing 36 volume some of that which are elaborate like this one. church had access to these volumes through some of his patrons who had copies of these things and their libraries. church could actually do is homework before he went to south america. and then use the smaller guidebook when he is actually in south america. what's church does is exactly what humboldt thousand to do. large numbers a color sketches, taken from nature and in order to we have to commit to memory what you are seeing, and decide
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how you're gonna put the pieces together in near large canvases. what's humboldt understands art is a combination of direct observation, and then thinking about the message you are trying to get across. it is not looking for something that is just scientific illustration. humble wants art and church. and then delivers on that. so you get this cloud bank and this moon on the right, and churches going to pull that cloud bank and the rising moon out of the sketch and put a don't totally. different volcano in the same area. but with church doesn't understand it's all of this is jake data. and he brings us back to his studio in new york. this is where the imagination fertilizers those sketches and turns them into competitions and they are faithful to the topography but imaginative in
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the way they bring futures together. so his great pitcher coming out of south america is this big vertical. it's an unusual for for the artist, it is his largest painting to date and it is in fact a replica of the journey that church and humbled took fighting their way up the river, to the base of the false. in fact humble writes that he used six locals, to chop away the foliage so he could get to the base of the false. and years later church does the same thing. hack away the foliage, so he can do his humbled climb to the base of the false. so church will include things like this blue and yellow mark awe. there's this passion vine off to the side, and the mccullough is drawn again, from one of
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churches oil sketches which was probably done on site. so a church is doing he's building up the vocabulary, he's putting together the pieces and then he will create this scene that for him it is and encapsulates shun of his trip to south america the. >> so mr. church they thought he probably shouldn't paint water because he can't. so we think churches reaction to that is that he will go straight to niagara falls and he will paint 100 sketches of the water, then he will paint niagara. as if to say oh yeah. watch me. when he paints niagara the critics all say how she going to outdo himself on that one and at which point church pivots to his next great humble picture which is the heart of the andes. we did not have the ability to
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borrow that picture for the sake of this presentation, but we used a four and a half meaty for the half minute video tour using high resolution photography, and almost a 3d swoop and glide tour, to go up to the volcanic headlands, into the summit and back down again. and you could not go on this if you painting or here in the gallery. you could not see that much detail in, you could not get that close to it. you could not see the top half of the pitcher without the letter as well. so we like to think that we took a situation, where we would have loved to have had the painting, but he gave us an opportunity to explain why, we wanted that painting. in a way that you could really understand. now before church leaves south america for his first trip, and i mentioned he stayed in the mantra far residents. and there was a pitcher that was done in 1802 when he was
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there, but church had a coffee by a younger ecuadorian copy. he install this in his studio in new york, and eventually in his home. and it was his version, of humbles cosmos. the center of the universe, where every view out of each window is a composed landscape, where he is sculpted the grounds and planted trees, and created on the top of this hill, in new york his own sort of cosmos. where everything is into related. the grounds, the interior the exterior, and so the life in nature the come together. so we borrowed churches copy of cosmos. i remember that church owned, a number of cosmos of humbled's
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books. what we know it was something that really mattered. when church paints the heart of the andes, he is basing this on an infographic that humbled had created after coming back from his trip to the americas. that is called his plant geography map that. is in the middle of the room. it is half water colored, it is hand colored, really magnificent, and this would have been folded up and placed in a sleeve in the back of his very first book, called the geography of plants. what he has done, is spectacular. you go from sea level, to the top of the mountain, but all of the latin plant names in here, was shown at the altitude, at which humbled found them. and the data on the side is
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barometric pressure, altitude, how deep blue the color of the sky was, comparative data from other places, and characteristic plants. this is the template, for the unity of nature. if you think about adding in, alpine vegetation from europe, rocky mountain veg terry vegetation from the united states, you keep adding different ecosystems and you create this gigantic network pitcher. it is an extraordinary document and what church will do is take that one the kind of five the different -- running from the sea to the mountain, and it's in that painting. it is visualization of this map. and we know there was intentionality behind it, because with church intended to do was to ship his major painting to berlin for humbled to see. in a cruel twist of fate,
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humbled dies the week churches finish the painting. and by the time the church gets the news, he realizes the baron will never be able to see his paintings. and when he really wanted to do, and the new york times encapsulated this, is that he really wanted to show to humbled, what he had learned from him. it's a way of saying, this is a summary like i got it. it's like you've changed my life, and here is my thank you here is my home mauve, and this is my proof of concept, and so the new york times mourns with him and even a church never met him, it was like he had lost his best friend. so the fact that humbled 50 years after his trip to united states, still has the power to affect us that deeply, i thought it spoke to the death and residents of what this is supposed to do the residents of
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it. and one of the other things that humbled believed fervently was the equality of all races and the need for abolition of slavery and colonialism. and he will tackle jefferson on this point, but he doesn't want to jeopardize the friendship, so he won't go all in on boy you know you need to really abolish slavery, but he will take every opportunity over the next 50 years, to proselytize to everybody else he can find in a desperate attempt to make this a better country. so the next step is to look at humbled the humanitarian.

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