Alexander von Humboldt and the United States:
Art, Nature and Culture

20 MARCH – 16 AUGUST 2020
Frederic Edwin Church, The Natural Bridge, Virginia, 1852, oil on canvas, 28 x 23 in. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, Gift of Thomas Fortune Ryan.

For the very first time, this exhibition examines the influence of the Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) on the developments of American visual arts, sciences, literature, politics and exploration, between 1804 and 1903.

During his long life, Humboldt traveled across 4 continents and wrote well over 25,000 letters to an international network of colleagues and admirers. In 1804, he spent 6 weeks in the United States. During this short period of time, through a series of lively exchanges of ideas about the arts, science, politics and exploration with influential figures such as President Thomas Jefferson and artist Charles Willson Peale, he shaped American perceptions of nature and the way American cultural identity became grounded in the natural world.

The exhibition centers on the fine arts as a lens through which to understand how deeply intertwined Humboldt’s ideas were with America’s emerging identity. It includes more than 100 paintings, sculptures, maps, and artifacts as well as a mastodon skeleton, a video introduction to Humboldt and his connections to the Smithsonian through an array of current projects and initiatives.