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Left: Valerie Hegarty. Photo from the Brooklyn Museum, Right: Collection Lannan Foundation © Subhankar Banerjee

By Patrick Rogers

The fact that nature and nation share a common root—the Latin verb nasci, "to be born"—might rate as trivia to most people. But in the context of early American art, at least, the connection has profound cultural meaning. Paintings of natural vistas, from New York's Hudson Valley to the purple mountains and red deserts of the West, became early symbols of a young nation and its so-called manifest destiny. In the minds of many early Americans and pioneers, the land was out there for "us" (as in, men of European decent) to celebrate—but also to conquer. The very idea of American civilization meant destroying some of those beautiful, natural vistas to build the cities, farms, and factories of the future.

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