Known as America’s first art fraternity, The Hudson River School began changing the popular style of art as early as the 1820’s. Springing from Thomas Cole, the artist behind works like The Oxbow and The Titan’s Goblet, The Hudson River School flooded the American art world with beautiful landscape paintings. Cole began with the Catskill Mountains of New York, and many fellow artists in the school followed suit. Each artist romanticized nature. The few religious ones even viewed untouched creation as a manifestation of God, but they all deified nature in some aspect. These beliefs led artists like Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt to paint incredible landscapes. Cole and the earliest generation of painters produced their works mostly in the east, specifically the Hudson River Valley. The focus in particular was the Catskill Mountains, but the further generation in the school expanded westward, one even travelled to South America. The Hudson River School changed the art aesthetic of the day by depicting monumental landscapes. Many connect The Hudson River School with nationalistic movements, especially that of manifest destiny. Each painting allowed viewers to see what the world was like outside of their immediate home. In context of the times, transportation was not as advanced or easy as today, so these works provided a window into places that were untouched and unseen by many. This exhibit is arranged by location. Each artwork progresses outward from the Hudson River Valley, extending deep into the Andes mountain range of South America.
Thomas Doughty, On the Hudson, 1830-35, oil on canvas, 91.27.1
Beginning on the Hudson River in New York State, Thomas Doughty paints a part of the Hudson River that is in close proximity to the Catskill Mountains. Doughty utilizes a muted or conservative color palette. This is the earliest of the Hudson River paintings that are displayed. Doughty’s style differs from the other artists on display as his quick brush strokes make it seem like an ideal landscape. This slightly contrasts to the other artists as their works look much more naturalistic in detail.
Thomas Cole, View on the Catskill—Early Autumn, 1836-37, oil on canvas, 95.13.3
This work by Cole is one of many paintings of the Catskill Mountains. Cole was enthralled with the Catskills, which conveniently sat close to his home in New York. At one time Cole’s painting depicted an actual landscape, but now the environment he painted is gone. Many trees were taken down in the construction of a railroad and the settlement of a town. Cole mourned the loss of that beautiful landscape. This painting memorializes the landscape, but also serves as a powerful message in the value of nature.
Asher Brown Durand, High Point: Shandaken Mountains, 1853, oil on canvas, 77.3.1
Another painting of a New York landscape, Asher Brown Durand paints the Shandaken Mountains, a mountain range within the Catskill State Park. Durand had a specific focus on utilizing light and shade within this work, but he still sticks to the incredible depth and space that is typical of Hudson River painters. This mountain, affectionately called High Point, was sketched multiple times before the landscape painting was done. Durand does stray from a framework as he includes the disturbance of civilized man in the natural environment.
Sanford Gifford, A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862, oil on canvas, 15.30.62
Kauterskill Clove, a favorite scene of Gifford’s, sits again in the Catskill Mountains, an area that had become a focus for the Hudson River School. This landscape spends more time at a distance than up close. Only a small part of the work sits in low relief. Gifford also experiments with light. In order to help with this, he embellishes the landscape. He adds a lake and cliffs to make a definitive middle ground. This work serves as a strong reminder that the Hudson River School did paint natural landscapes, but they also romanticized nature, thus taking the liberty to alter reality.
Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863, oil on canvas, 07.123
Moving out of New York, Albert Bierstadt focused on the west. He especially focused on the concept of manifest destiny. In one of his many expeditions, he travelled to The Rocky Mountains. Bierstadt lived in the age of the westward expansion, so he expanded the depictions of the Hudson River School. This particular piece takes in Wyoming. Bierstadt portrays the Rocky Mountains, undisturbed and untouched by man. While there is a Native American settlement, that is considered part of the natural landscape. Bierstadt expanded the scope of landscape painting to the west. This work brought the west into popular interest amongst the public.
Thomas Moran, The Teton Range, 1897, oil on canvas, 39.47.2
Moran’s work also depicts a mountain range in Wyoming, but not in the Rockies. While Bierstadt laid claim to the Rocky Mountains, Moran frequently painted the Yellowstone region and the Grand Canyon, which is what is depicted here in The Teton Range. Moran paints decades after Bierstadt, which goes to show the cutting edge of Bierstadt’s art. Moran’s work is filled with vivid colors providing an awe-inspiring landscape of the American west. Undisturbed nature is left to flourish as a pure manifestation of deity.
Frederic Church, Heart of the Andes, 1859, oil on canvas, 09.95
Moving away from the United States, Frederic Church paints a South American landscape. The Heart of the Andes, like the previous works, displays a picturesque environment that could not be seen by the typical viewer. This work is astounding just by its scope and detail. Church based this painting off many of his sketches while he explored Ecuador and Colombia. Thus, Church embellishes the environment. On the right side of the composition, Church included sturdy trees that resemble some from the Hudson Valley. In his original sketches the trees were palms, but he altered them for the sake of the scenery. This type of embellishment is what many of the Hudson River School painters did as it fulfilled their romanticist view of nature. This work was incredibly popular as many Americans had never witnessed environments outside their own.