From the Sublime to the Cosmic

From the Sublime to the Cosmic

The word sublime, popularly used in the 18th and 19th centuries, described the feeling generated by awesome vistas. A sublime experience aroused experiences of transcendence and stimulated the possibility of union with a divine presence in the natural world. When free from the perils that alpine and polar environments posed, artists, writers, and explorers appreciated the ice as a sanctuary and portal into a cosmic realm.

Lawren Harris (Canadian, 1885–1970), Icebergs, Davis Strait, 1930, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 152.4 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Spencer Clark, 1971.17

Nicholas Roerich (Russian, 1874–1947), Northern Midnight, oil on canvas, 1940, Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York, NY

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

During the 1930s, the quest for a spiritual awakening in icy climes attracted Lawren Harris, Nicholas Roerich, and Rockwell Kent, three artists from different cultural backgrounds. They painted in a representational style that also assimilated aspects of modern art: simplification of forms, emphasis on geometry, and expansive areas of color. These artists captured the cool northern light that sharpened the beautiful outlines of ice formations.

Top banner image: John Ruskin (British, 1819-1900), Mer de Glace-Moonlight, 1863, watercolor, 9.44 x 14.17 in. (24 x 36 cm), Alpine Club Photo Library, London