The beauty and diversity of Utah's landscape has inspired numerous artists past and present. However, in capturing the unrivaled terrain on canvas or paper, some artists, historically, have been more successful than others.
Indeed, one could say Utah landscape art runs the gamut from abominable to resplendent. But those artists who have succeeded have managed to bring something unique and inspiring to the subject.
Through April, the public may view the work of two of the state's more inspired landscape artists on the ground floor of the Museum of Church History and Art. "Landscape and Life: The Rural Setting of the Latter-day Saints," features paintings by LeConte Stewart (1891-1990) and pictorial photographs (bromoils) by J. George Midgley (1882-1979).
The artwork, completed between 1920-50, is grouped into 12 sections: The Uninhabited Landscape; The Farm in the Landscape; Farm Architecture; Barns in Rural Utah; The Mormon Village; Views of Peterson, Utah; Men Working the Land; Pastureland and Farm Crops; Harvest Scenes; Lombardy Poplars; Depression Era Landscapes; and Latter-day Saint Meetinghouses. These groupings reveal unique regional characteristics of the land together with the habitation and agriculture it supported.
Stepping off the escalator, one first encounters self-portraits of Stewart and Midgley, each in the style of the exhibit's work.
Stewart, a native of Glenwood, Utah, employed the impressionistic technique he acquired while studying art with leading artist-teachers in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1938 he became head of the art department at the University of Utah. Over his 80-year career, Stewart produced thousands of paintings, and was appreciated for his ability to depict different moods, the essence of place and seasonal-weather effects.
Midgley was born and raised in Salt Lake City, attending local schools and the LDS Business College. He was an insurance executive with the Heber J. Grant and Co. firm. After 1910, Midgley taught himself the bromoil transfer method of photography, eventually becoming one of the nation's leading practitioners.
While Stewart's paintings in the exhibit are surely competent (they are not among his best), there are some that will be admired greatly, such as "Country Funeral, Porterville" (oil on canvas, 1948), "House By the Tracks, Near Riverdale" (oil on panel, 1937), and "Autumn's Gold, Davis County" (oil on panel, 1929). Stewart's paintings also illustrate the changes in technique the artist went through over the years.
Midgley's bromoil transfer prints, on the other hand, set the show apart; each image is thick with mood, made possible by the artist's creative method.
The bromoil process reproduced altered photographic images by employing lithographic ink. After a photographic print was made, it was immersed in a chemical bath that bleached out the silver and tanned the gelatin image. When wet, the light parts of the picture swelled, repelling greasy ink, while the dark parts absorbed it. Midgley would delicately brush on the ink, creating stirring tonal relationships and rich textures. The print was then placed face down on a blank sheet of watercolor paper and run through a small press, thus making a transfer. Though mainly used between 1895 to about 1920, Midgley continued to use the bromoil transfer method as late as 1975, when the artist was 93.
A few of Midgley's standout images are "Homeward" (1950) "At the Pasture Gate" (1941) and "Flowing Fields" (1935).
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