March 24-May 24, 2014

One of the great American history paintings of the nineteenth century is The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, 1620, in the Kirby Collection of Historical Paintings in the Lafayette College Art Collection. This dynamic, Grand Manner composition from 1854 is by renowned Philadelphia artist Peter F. Rothermel (1812–95).

The exhibition will focus attention on the picture, the historical, literary, and artistic contexts in which it was produced, and the echoing of its image in American visual culture.

Rothermel’s dramatic interpretation was less concerned with portraying the facts of history than in perpetuating its mythic dimensions. The grand histrionics of this romantic rendering proclaim the inspiration of British poet Felicia Hemans’s popular poem, “The Landing of the Pilgrims in New England,” 1825. The heroic determinism celebrated in The Landing of the Pilgrims takes its place then among the many contemporary images affirming America’s Manifest Destin–the widely-held  19th century belief  that American settlers were destined to expand across North America. Through reproductions, including a large, impressive 1869 engraving and a 1901 oil-on-canvas copy by Darius Cobb, Rothermel’s picture became embedded in America’s visual culture.

Mark Thistlethwaite, the Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History at Texas Christian University, who has written extensively on Rothermel serves as curator. Thistlethwaite and Lafayette’s Bianca Falbo are essayists for the accompanying catalogue.

Thursday, March 27, 4:10 p.m.
Williams Center 108 Lecture by curator Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite
“Portraying History in the Grand Manner: The Art of Peter F. Rothermel (1812-1895)”

April 7, Noon–1 p.m.
Williams Center 108
Lecture by Bianca Falbo
“Felicia Hemans’s ‘Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England’: Texts and Contexts”

Generous support for the exhibition and catalogue has been provided by the F. M. Kirby Foundation.