The Hudson River School Mid-19th Century American Art

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Hudson River School Members: Albert Bierstadt, John William Casilear, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Samuel Colman, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Thomas Doughty, Robert Duncanson, Asher Brown Durand Sanford Robinson Gifford, James McDougal Hart, William Hart, William Stanley Haseltine, Martin Johnson Heade, Hermann Ottomar Herzog, Thomas Hill, David Johnson, John Frederick Kensett, Jervis McEntee, Thomas Moran, Robert Walter Weir, Worthington Whittredge

The Hudson River School, Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life: Youth, 1842

Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life: Youth, 1842

The Hudson River School, Thomas Cole: A View of Fort Putnam, 1825

Thomas Cole: A View of Fort Putnam, 1825

The Hudson River School coincided with a time of social and political changes in the United States. The group therefore attempted to portray the ideals and hopes of a new nation in early stages of development. Their paintings embraced the wildness of the American landscape as it was being threatened by industry and technology. As changes daunted the growing nation, this group of artists wished to preserve the initial concept of the New World in its undeveloped, natural state. The Hudson River School is associated with early conservation movements in America.

The Hudson River School, Albert Bierstadt: The Sierra

Albert Bierstadt: The Sierra

Before the 1820s, most American artists painted portraits and historical paintings. The Hudson River School was unique in its portrayal of wilderness as impressive and awe inspiring. Their romantic paintings depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.

The Hudson River School, Albert Bierstadt: Seal Rock

Albert Bierstadt: Seal Rock

The origin of the name “Hudson River School” is not known, but some believe it to be coined by the art critic Clarence Cook or painter Homer D. Martin after the group’s popularity waned in the late 19th century.

The Hudson River School, Asher Durand: Sheep the Beeches

Asher Durand: Sheep the Beeches

The Hudson River School, Asher Durand: In the Woods

Asher Durand: In the Woods

Thomas Cole was an early leader of the Hudson River School and is commonly referred to as the founder. In the fall of 1825, Cole travelled on a steamship up the Hudson and Erie Canal. Cole was the first to paint landscapes of this area of river surrounded by the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Later in 1925 the New York Evening Post reviewed Cole’s work. The English born artist Cole’s close friend, Asher Durand, became a prominent figure in the school as well, particularly when the banknote-engraving business evaporated in the Panic of 1837.

The Hudson River School, Frederic Edwin Church: The Iceberg

Frederic Edwin Church: The Iceberg

The Hudson River School, Frederic Edwin Church: Niagara Falls, From the American Side

Frederic Edwin Church: Niagara Falls, From the American Side

After Cole’s death his close friend Asher Durand assumed leadership of the Hudson River School. The painters were complimented by the great writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote literary works praising nature. Hudson River School artists also drew from European masters such as Claude Lorrain, John Constable and JMW Turner.

The Hudson River School, Jasper Francis Cropsey: Starrucca

Jasper Francis Cropsey: Starrucca

The Hudson River School, Jasper Francis Cropsey: Autumn in the Warwick Valley

Jasper Francis Cropsey: Autumn in the Warwick Valley

As the movement progressed it expanded in numbers. Artist such as Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt migrated westward, painting large and dramatic painting. The Hudson River School artists were not plein-air painters, but rather made preparatory sketches in nature, which were later compiled into a final masterpiece.

The Hudson River School, Thomas Doughty: In the Catskills

Thomas Doughty: In the Catskills

The many of the Hudson River School Artists helped to found one of the United State’s leading fine art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Before their paintings were housed museums, interested viewers would stand in long lines to see a single painting on display. The paintings reminded city inhabitants to preserve land for national and city parks.

The Hudson River School, Thomas Worthington Whittredge: River Scene

Thomas Worthington Whittredge: River Scene

Today, many of the Hudson River School’s Paintings are owned by the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut. Their collection included numerous works by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. Other collections of Hudson River School paintings are concentrated in museums throughout the Northeast and in private collections internationally.

The Hudson River School, William Stanley Haseltine: Alpine Scene, 1856

William Stanley Haseltine: Alpine Scene, 1856

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