Four Centuries of Glacier Art

Caught in the Ice Floes, c. 1867
Caught in the Ice Floes, c. 1867 © William Bradford


Now on view at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, the exhibition “Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012” explores the aesthetic and cultural significance of glaciers for Western art over the past 400 years.

The exhibit aims to inspire audiences to take action to protect the world’s glaciers as global warming takes its toll on these magnificent landscapes and icy frontiers. “Vanishing Ice is both a beautiful glimpse of some of the most remote and fragile ecosystems, and a call to action on what many people hold to be the defining issue of this generation,” said Victoria Dickenson, executive director and CEO of the McMichael gallery, in a news release.

The traveling exhibition is comprised of more than 70 works by 50 artists from 12 different countries, including paintings, rare expedition journals, photographs, videos, and installations. The artists presenting include Bisson Frères, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Hart Benton, and Alexis Rockman. Despite diverse themes and interpretations, almost all the artists were, in some way, stimulated by an effort to eulogize the beauty of ice.

“I was looking for works that would inspire people today to feel the same attraction that drew artists to these regions over the centuries. Seeing these works, people will hopefully experience this connection and be moved in some way to make a difference,” said Dr. Barbara Matilsky, the show’s curator, in an interview with National Gallery of Canada Magazine. The traveling exhibit’s first stop was the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington in 2013. After Bellingham it traveled to the El Paso Museum in Texas, and then on to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. Kleinburg is the final stop.

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Arranged both geographically and chronologically, the pieces in the show vividly demonstrate how rapidly alpine and polar landscapes have changed over time. The photograph Noctilucent Clouds over Mount Baker, Washington (July 30,1975) by Eliot Porter (1901-1990) captures Coleman Glacier crowned by a rare kind of twilight cloud found in Polar Regions and composed of crystals of water ice. (See a time lapse of noctilucent clouds here.) It was taken during Porter’s journey to Pacific Northwest. Along with photographs by Henry C. Engberg (1865-1942) and Brett Baunton (1959-), this work documents the dramatic retreat of the Coleman Glacier since the beginning of the century.

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Please click here for more information on Vanishing Ice at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.