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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Norton Bush, American, 1834-1894

Lake Nicaragua
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund; P.970.56


Norton Bush was a prolific California artist who specialized in tropical landscapes painted in the luminist style. Lake Nicaragua exemplifies this aesthetic tradition through its meticulously rendered detail, spare composition, and enveloping, crystalline light. Like the tropical subjects painted by Bush’s more renowned contemporaries Martin Johnson Heade and Frederic Edwin Church, Lake Nicaragua reflects North America’s political, scientific, artistic, and commercial interest in Latin America during the nineteenth century. Several of Bush’s major patrons had business concerns in Latin America, including Henry Meiggs, who commissioned the artist’s 1875 trip to South America to obtain sketches of his mining operations. Nicaragua held particular importance as a key route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (partially via the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua) for east-west sea travelers throughout the nineteenth century. This same route was one of four seriously considered for the interoceanic canal that now traverses the Isthmus of Panama. Bush would have found an eager market for his Nicaraguan scenery among the many people who traveled the route, particularly in transit to and from California. In this work, he used delicate brushwork and rich coloring to convey the sultry atmosphere and exotic allure of Central America. It includes certain stock features that recur in his tropical paintings—a smoking volcano in the distance, palm trees dripping with tangled vines, tropical birds in flight, and a smooth lake accented with a small, indigenous boat—all of it, as one writer put it, “thoroughly permeated with tropical warmth.”

Last Updated: 5/13/09