Alpine Glaciers

Art & Science/ Mountaineering & Tourism/ Environmental Preservation

Beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, enthusiasm for mountain landscapes expanded across Europe and into North America. Artists, scientists, and writers introduced the sublime splendor and natural history of alpine terrain, which was once believed to harbor demons and dragons.

Artists’ views of alpine landscapes helped popularize the revolutionary concept of Ice Ages, which advanced and receded over vast stretches of time through the movement of glaciers and ice sheets. Artworks contributed to knowledge about Earth’s expanding age and geological formations.

Artists’ images appeared in scientific publications, travelogues, popular magazines, and exhibitions. A passion for mountain climbing and tourism to alpine regions soon emerged. Collaborations between the arts and sciences stimulated a closer connection between people and nature. This influenced the emergence of groups like the Sierra Club (1892) and campaigns for environmental preservation.


Jean Charles Joseph Rémond (1795-1875), Limestone Peak of the Wetterhorn and Rosenlaui Glacier, 1842, National Museum of Natural History, Paris (detail right); photos: Barbara Matilsky

Artists were commissioned to create mural-sized landscape paintings for natural history museums and schools of higher learning. These works helped students and the public visualize the movement of glaciers, which was key to understanding the process of ice age formation and retreat.

Cool Fact

Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818), which was written after a trip to to Mont Blanc’s glaciers, takes place in the Alps and the Arctic.

Top banner image: Resurrection Bay, Alaska, c. 1939, Oil on canvas on board, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington.