Art: Face of the Land

American landscape painting languished in the closet until quite recently. The impulse to record the primal shapes of land, vegetation, light, water and sky, enormously important to American art in the 19th century, was tagged throughout the 1960s as regressive, unmodernist, dumb—everything, in fact, that an acrylic stripe on unprimed duck could never be. Photography had taken care of landscape; one could leave it to the National Geographic.

But today, with the revival of interest in realist painting, the swing has gone the other way, and recently the U.S. Government gave it a vigorous push. In early 1974 the Department...

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