“The artist has a twofold relation to nature; he is at once her master and her slave.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

To trace the history of nature in art is, essentially, to trace the history of art itself. The ancient Greeks established the imitation of nature as the highest aim of art, and Chinese artists dating from the earliest dynasties have turned to the mountainous landscape as the physical manifestation of _Qi_, the vital energy of the universe. Many major movements of the intervening centuries have been defined by their increasingly subjective treatment of nature. The sweeping Romantic landscapes of J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich emphasized the subjugation of man to the sublime environment, while Impressionists like Claude Monet immersed themselves en plein air, attempting to capture the overall visual experience of the landscape rather than depict it literally. Even much of modern abstraction has centered on nature—Abstract Expressionists like Helen Frankenthaler and Op artists like Bridget Riley saw their practices as channeling the primal forces, energies, and rhythms of the natural world. “I don’t paint nature,” Jackson Pollock once said. “I am nature.”

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