Jasper F. Cropsey
American, 1823–1900
American Harvesting, 1851
Oil on canvas
H. 35 1/2, w. 52 3/4 in.
IU Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Nicholas Noyes, 68.93

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the American landscape came to represent the special qualities of the new nation. While Americans might feel raw and “uncivilized” in comparison with Europeans, they characterized older cultures as decadent and burdened by the past. The United States had no ruined temples or cathedrals, but the purity and grandeur of its landscape foretold the future greatness of its democratic and capitalist system.

American painters seized upon this theme, finding religious as well as political meaning in the study of nature. The artists of the Hudson River School traveled out into the countryside, making sketches that would be gathered later into idealized composites. Cropsey’s picture portrays the cutting edge of American progress, as the wilderness yields to the family farm. Reproduced in a small engraving the year that it was painted, this image was widely recognized as an emblem of national harmony and prosperity.