Nemerov to deliver Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts

Alex Nemerov
Alex Nemerov (Photo: Bob Richman)

For six weeks this spring, ALEXANDER NEMEROV will be spending Sundays at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where he will give the 66th annual A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts.

The topic of his lectures, The Forest: America in the 1830s, is the first ever in the history of the series to be about American painting and literature in the 19th century, and Nemerov, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, is the first Stanford professor to be invited by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts to participate in the series.

Over the course of six Sundays, March 26 through May 7, Nemerov will explore the Hudson River School painters and their contemporaries, with a focus on what their art did and did not show of the teeming world around them. The lectures will present a fundamentally new account of Thomas Cole (1801–1848), John Quidor (1801– 1881), James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) and other artists and writers of that time.

“I’ve always wanted to write about the forest in America,” said Nemerov. “I suspect my deep reasons for writing about American history have to do with stories of the American wilderness, of the French and Indian War. Probably deep down most is Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.”

He added, “But even more than that, more of an inspiration, is this question that animates all my lectures at Stanford: How does life get into art? In the Mellon Lectures, the forest is life, teeming, impossible to name and frame. Art is at a remove from life. American artists of the 1830s were busy trying to create their own version of that remove. But life still enters their work, sometimes, at angles, in oddities, in beauties. What is lost and what is gained if flowing life makes its way into a painting?”

Since 1949, the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts have presented the best in contemporary thought and scholarship on the subject of the fine arts to the people of the United States. The program itself is named for Andrew W. Mellon, founder of the National Gallery of Art, who gave the nation his art collection and funds to build the West Building, which opened to the public in 1941.