Frederick Ferdinand Schafer Painting Catalog
2.5 The Art: Iconography in the paintings of Frederick F. Schafer; Painting Sizes
|Bear Lake in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah , detail|
As mentioned earlier, staffage, in the form of small midground figures, usually of Indians but occasionally of trappers, hunters, prospectors, or even bear or deer, often appear as part of the natural landscape, providing an iconic, rather than explicit, genre touch in Schafer paintings. One evidence for this interpretation is that as often as not, human figures are facing into the landscape, avoiding confrontation with the viewer of the painting. Rather than representing an intrusion of civilization into nature, Schafer's human figures are as much a part of nature as the animals, and they go about their business as if unaware of being observed in their natural environment. Their function is probably more to provide a measure of the awesome scale of the landscape than to denote humanity.
Other popular icons of wilderness painters, such as representations of civilization, development, and progress in the form of sawn stumps, neat farms, chopped wood, and the railroad, do not regularly appear in Schafer's work, and it seems unlikely that in the works in which they do appear they take on the special significance they sometimes did, say, for the Hudson River painters.note 3
note 1: This theme is developed in the section entitled "Remedies for three major defects" in James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits, pages 129-135. Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., "John Ross Key, the California paintings" picks up the same theme, in Art of California 2, 2 (April/May, 1989), page 25.
note 2: At least two early artists mention the cluttered American forest:
"In the American forest we find trees in every stage of vegetable life and decay--the slender sapling rises in the shadow of the lofty tree, and the giant in his prime stands by the hoary patriarch of the wood--on the ground lie prostrate decaying ranks that once waved their verdant heads in the sun and wind." Thomas Cole, "Essay on American Scenery", pages 9-10.
"How different was the scene before me from anything I had been looking at for many years. The forest was a mass of decaying logs and tangled brush wood, no peasants to pick up every vestige of fallen sticks...nothing but the primitive woods with their solemn silence." Worthington Whittridge, in John I. H. Baur, editor, "The Autobiography of [Thomas] Worthington Whittredge 1820-1910", reprinted in John. W. McCoubrey, American Art, 1700-1960 on page 119.
note 3: Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture, chapter VIII.
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|Jan 28, 2004, 18:05 EST||Comments, corrections, or questions: Saltzer@mit.edu|