Return to Nature

Color photograph of a dense forest with a light skin-toned girl with bare feet climbing a tree at center. Below her to the right is another light skinned girl sitting against the trunk of a tree. Other figures are scattered throughout the forest in the background.
Aug 01 to Dec 23, 2020

Inspired by our collective urge to return outside after a period of hibernation, this focus exhibition presents 20 photographs by 11 artists from the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). In the museum’s intimately scaled Teresa Lozano Long Gallery, large contemporary prints of lush landscapes mingle with exquisite vintage black-and-white flower studies. Other photographs on view depict figures traversing beaches, deserts, rainforests, and the coastlines of rivers and lakes. The installation demonstrates how artists passionately explore nature’s scientific phenomena and visual complexity, as well as its role as the wellspring for all human experience.

Women actively participated in the development of photography from the time of its introduction in 1839. In the medium’s earliest years, women advanced botanical illustration in particular. Until the 1970s, their contributions were largely overlooked, and very few museums acquired their photographs in substantial numbers. Photography is one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of NMWA’s collection; more than half of the artworks featured in Return to Nature are being exhibited for the first time.

Close-up photograph shows a trumpet-shaped flower against a dark black background. The flower's striated long neck erupts in a profusion of purple and white petals that dominate the composition.

Amy Lamb, Purple Datura, 2015; Digital pigment print of photograph, 34 x 34 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Artist and Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore; © 2015 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved.