Natural Bridge (Primary Title)
In a July 1877 diary entry, McEntee documented his journey to Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he made this oil sketch of the famous Natural Bridge. Soaring hundreds of feet above a creek, the dramatic geologic formation figured prominently in 19th-century travel literature as a southern counterpart to the wondrous Niagara Falls. Long sacred to the Monacan Indians, the site was formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson, who proclaimed it “the most sublime of nature’s work.” McEntee pictured the limestone arch just as the afternoon light illuminates its top ridge; the sunstruck crest glows brightly against a gray-violet sky.
McEntee came of age during the height of America’s Romantic landscape movement. He was also inspired by the truth-to-nature approach advocated at midcentury by English theorist John Ruskin and, like his artist colleagues, made annual trips to render plein-air (open-air) studies in natural areas. This wonderfully fresh sketch, while carefully composed, still retains something of McEntee’s initial spontaneity.
A Diary Illuminated: Oil Sketches by Jervis McEntee, exh.cat. (New York: Debra Force fine Art, 2007), 16, illus. 17.
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