ALVAN FISHER 1792-1863
View Near Springfield, Massachusetts, 1819
Oil on canvas, 32 X 44" (81.28 x 111. 76 cm.)
Signed, lower left
Museum purchase, 979-0-116
Born in Needham, Massachusetts, Alvan Fisher studied for almost two years with John Ritto Penniman, an ornamental painter. He established a studio in Boston in 1814. During his long career, Fisher produced a large body of work that included portraiture, landscape, and genre and he was one of the first native-born American artists to devote himself to landscape painting in a significant way. According to his own report, he first took up the subject around 1815. Initially, his landscape compositions, which often included genre elements, were imaginary scenes that owed more to English models than to the direct observation of nature. Within a few years, however, Fisher had abandoned the formulaic qualities characteristic of his initial work for a more realistic representational style. Undoubtedly based on drawings done during one of his many trips through the region, View Near Springfield, Massachusetts, despite the conventional use of trees to bracket the scene, is an early product of that shift in artistic expression.
The Butler Institute painting is one of several works by Fisher that focus on the Connecticut River Valley, admired by the artist's contemporaries for its natural beauty and agricultural productivity. It clearly is a variation on another oil of the same size and date, View Near Springfield Along the Connecticut River (1819, Brooklyn Museum). Given the emphasis both compositions place on the pastoral nature of the countryside, with its slow flowing river, herds of cattle, neat but modest houses, rolling hills and cultivated fields, View Near Springfield, Massachusetts could well
have been conceived as a companion piece for the Brooklyn Museum canvas. Certainly, both project an image of an idyllic land, an arcadia, that expresses the ideals of Jeffersonian America and speaks eloquently of the promise of the young Republic.
Although Fisher undertook sublime and nationalistic subjects such as Niagara Falls (1820, National Museum of American Art), he repeatedly turned to the Connecticut River Valley for inspiration and made its varied landscape from the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire to Hartford one of his special concerns. His views of the Springfield area with their soft undulating lines and crystalline light glorify the beautiful and picturesque aspects of the countryside, presenting that part of New England as an American Eden. In 1835, Thomas Cole remarked: "Whether we see it [the Connecticut River] at Haverhill, Northampton, or Hartford, it still possesses that gentle aspect; and the imagination can scarcely conceive Arcadian vales more lovely or more peaceful than the valley of the Connecticut-its villages are rural places where trees overspread every dwelling, and the fields upon its margin have the richest verdure." Cole's remarks could well be applied to Fisher's paintings of the area, which so perfectly convey a sense of the quietude and fecundity of the valley even at a time when the Connecticut River Valley was "bustling with activity' and its bucolic nature "was being invaded, altered, and molded by agents of industrialization and urbanization.
EDWARD J. NYGREN