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The Ideal and the Literal Sublime

A STRIKING ESTHETIC CONFRONTATION between painting and photography occurs in the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of American masterpieces from its collection. The room devoted to the period during which the Hudson River School flourished contains paintings by Cole, Church, Kensett and Bierstadt and a photograph by Carlton Watkins. Cole’s Ox-bow, Church’s Heart of the Andes and Kensett’s Lake George are shown side by side on one wall; Bierstadt’s huge Rocky Mountains is juxtaposed with Watkins’s photograph of Mt. Starr King, Yosemite, on the wall opposite. Within a thick, bevelled brown mat, glassed over and set into a plain brown but deeply scooped wood frame, the Watkins is presented as if it were a small easel painting. The photograph and the painting are nearly exactly contemporary and the frame enforces the photograph’s contemporaneous period aspect. Such a group

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