VOLATILE ATMOSPHERES


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John Martin (English, 1789–1854), Landscape with Cattle Grazing in the Foreground, 1833. 
Watercolor and gouache, with gum arabic on paper. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton. Clark Art Institute, 2007.8.90
 
The invention of the hot air balloon at the end of the eighteenth century ushered in a heightened awareness of the skies. Floating above the earth, the first meteorologists studied clouds, wind, and rain to comprehend, explain, and predict weather patterns. The resulting 1803 release of English meteorologist Luke Howard’s classification of clouds as cumulus, stratus, and cirrus forever changed how artists rendered the skies. Howard and his contemporaries published books and submitted articles to popular journals, inspiring artists to portray weather’s unrestrained volatility with greater accuracy and attention to detail. By the end of the century, new discoveries in weather developed into a broader interest beyond the bounds of our atmosphere to question the stars, consider the moon’s formation, and examine the power of the sun.