Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills plumbs landscape painting at the Frick | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills plumbs landscape painting at the Frick

“All landscapes are meant as homes for our imagination.”

click to enlarge Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills plumbs landscape painting at the Frick
Image courtesy of American Federation of Arts
“The Bard,” by Thomas Jones

This summer, the former estate of steel mogul Henry Clay Frick hosts the sublime Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape.

Some might see both British landscape painting and views of the early Industrial Age as passé, but this exhibit is surprisingly broad in scope. Satirical engravings, post-modern industrial paintings and 21st-century land art shine alongside 19th-century masterpieces.

Refreshingly, this major traveling exhibit highlights Welsh history and art. In fact, all 62 works are on loan from the National Museum of Wales, which organized the show along with the American Federation of Arts, and many works are Welsh in origin.

“The Bard,” a 1774 painting by Thomas Jones, depicts the English conquest of Wales. Sarah Hall, the Frick’s director of curatorial affairs, describes the work as a “grand nationalistic history painting.”

“You see the last bard with the dead bodies around him and he is going to plunge off the cliff and choose his own fate rather than wait for the English invaders,” says Hall.

“It is a very supernatural feeling, the doves coming up as if they are the spirits of the ... dead bards themselves.” 

The exhibit’s all-star roster of artists also includes John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, Gainsborough and Monet, among others. 

One of the biggest surprises in Rolling Hills are two full-color photographs by Richard Long and David Nash. For “Snowdonia Stones” and “Ash Dome,” the artists constructed druid-inspired circles of trees and stones as “their way of going back and forming a more personal connection to the land,” says Hall. She says these images are visitor favorites.

Hall hopes that Pittsburghers will have the same feeling of connection after seeing Rolling Hills. “All landscapes are meant as homes for our imagination,” she says, “We can go out to our own landscape and have a new sense of belonging.”

The complementary mini-exhibit Hills and Mills enhances this sense of belonging with a set of rare prints from local collectors Bruce and Sheryl Wolf, depicting Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century, as steel mills were first defining the local landscape.

Too many art exhibits fail to either educate or inspire. But Rolling Hills, Satanic Mills does both, and will be a highlight of your summer.

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