The Nineteenth-Century Landscape and Twentieth-Century Space: Traumatic Loss or Trace of Memory?

Robert Smithson and the Entropic Metaphor
  • Joan Fiori Blanchfield
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 61)


Since the nineteenth century, the “denaturing” of land has alienated numerous artists and writers, depriving them of many positive and viable sources of inspiration. Most writers about landscape painting of the nineteenth century assume it is a rationale for settlement and development, conveying nationalist feeling. However, it is less well understood how landscape has served as an idea, and as a metaphor, for both the desecration and the preservation of land, even while it may be taken for granted by the environmentally aware. The sublime landscape in nineteenth-century painting is “denatured” in the abstract art of the first half of the twentieth century. But it reasserts itself as a subject in the “surrealist” uncanny of the literal landscape by environmental earthworks artists like Robert Smithson, and other environmental artists in the second half of the century. This paper will show, through the work of Smithson, with its roots in the work of nineteenth-century artists such as Thomas Cole, and landscape architects like Frederick Law Olmstead, as well as through twentieth-century abstractionists like De Kooning and Pollock, that the subjective position of the viewer in relation to the pictorial space of the object and its environment is as crucial to this “denaturing” of landscape as it is to the possibility of its redemption. This can be shown by utilizing both spatial and psychoanalytical analysis.


Nineteenth Century Great Salt Lake Landscape Painting Open Universe Pleasure Principle 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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  • Joan Fiori Blanchfield

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