From the Sublime to the Cosmic

Ice-capped mountains inspired heightened emotions as a growing number of early artists and writers expressed wonder at their dramatic scale and enchanting colors. The word sublime was used to describe the feelings generated by alpine vistas.

Lawren Harris (Canadian, 1885–1970), Icebergs, Davis Strait, 1930

Nicholas Roerich (Russian, 1874–1947), Northern Midnight, 1940

Rockwell Kent (American, 1882–1971), Artist in Greenland, c. 1935, Baltimore Museum of Art

The sublime stirred transcendence. A journey from civilization to frozen landscapes presented the potential for an encounter with the divine and union with the natural world.

The quest for a spiritual awakening in icy climes attracted three artists from different cultural backgrounds – Lawren Harris, Nicholas Roerich, and Rockwell Kent. They painted in a representational style that also assimilated aspects of modern art: its simplification of forms, emphasis on geometry, and expansive areas of color. The artists loved the cool, clear northern light that sharpened the outlines of ice formations.

Explorers, writers, and artists also identified polar terrain with the sublime. When free from the perils that it often posed, they appreciated the ice as a sanctuary and portal into a cosmic realm.