How the Hudson River School became America’s premier art movement

“The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton)” by Thomas Cole, 1836. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

In the 19th century, a group of American painters devoted themselves to cultivating a style that would have its roots in the New World, rather than looking back to Europe. Inspired by the rugged landscape of their surroundings and filled with ideas for exploration, these landscape painters helped create what is now known as the Hudson River School.

In these landscapes, the environment is filled with drama and emotion. The vast spaces are speckled with warm colors, as representations of man are avoided in favor of the terrain. From 1825 until its popularity began to wane around 1870, the group of artists associated with these heroic landscapes helped shape our view of early America.

The first works of an emigrant of British origin Thomas cole to oil paintings by Albert Bierstadt and Frédéric Edwin Church, these landscape paintings were often the first representations of unknown parts. From views of the Yosemite Valley and the American West to glimpses of South America, these paintings are testimony to a critical period in American history and the development of culture. aboriginal art.

Characteristics of the Hudson River School

“October in the Catskills” by Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1880. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Origins of the Hudson River School

The foundations of the Hudson River School can be found in the romantic painting that emerged in Europe at the end of the 18th century. A great influence was how the Romantic painters, especially in England and Germany, adopted large-scale landscape painting.

However, while some influence is based in Europe, the Hudson River School is a decidedly national style, coming at a time when American painters sought to define art in their own country. For generations, artists have returned to the Old World to study the Grand Masters. But, more and more, these artists wanted to cultivate a uniquely American style. This desire, associated with this particular moment in history, contributed to the development of the Hudson River School.

In the mid-19th century, when style really took hold, America was emerging from Civil War. Manifest Destiny, a popular philosophy that Americans were destined to expand to western North America had taken hold. At the same time, industrialization was underway and was rapidly transforming the country.

Second Generation of Hudson River School

“Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California” by Albert Bierstadt, 1868. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Not only were artists more adventurous as they left New York City to explore unknown regions, the resulting wild landscapes became a symbol for the undefeated continent. Love for the wilderness was something not usually seen in European landscapes, which makes the work unmistakably American.

At the same time, these representations of large spaces, ready to be colonized, give hope to a population emerging from the war. Fresh and unspoiled, this new land was free from the scars of battle. Taken together, these paintings are a testament to the spirit of adventure, freedom and discovery that embodied the nation during this critical period in history.

American Landscape Painting by Thomas Cole

“View of the Catskill — Beginning of Autumn” by Thomas Cole, 1836-1837. (Photo: Public domain via Metropolitan Art Museum)

Who named the Hudson River School?

The movement received its name in retrospect, although there is debate as to whether it was art critic Clarence Cook or artist Homer Dodge Martin who first used the term. Initially, it was a derogatory name, intended to trivialize the work of these out of fashion artists for the benefit of the French school of Barbizon.

While the name Hudson River School comes from the fact that the earliest paintings depicted the Hudson River Valley and its environs, later work includes locations in the American West, New England, and even South America.

Thomas Cole, who is generally known as the father of the movement, spent a great deal of time in the area after taking a steamboat on the Hudson in 1825. From there he toured the Catskills and the resulting paintings are the first landscapes of the Region. Upon Cole’s death in 1848, the mantle was taken over by a second generation of painters who expanded the locations of the landscapes.

Frédéric Edwin Church - Heart of the Andes

‘Heart of the Andes’ by Frederic Edwin Church, 1859. (Photo: Public Domain via Metropolitan Art Museum)

Frederic Edwin Church and the second generation

In the second half of the 19th century, painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church were particularly sought after for their monumental landscapes. Both were built on Cole’s principles – Church was his pupil – and depicted heroic landscapes that played on emotion and patriotism.

The church is ten feet wide Heart of the Andes was a sensation from the time it was painted in 1859. According to the artist’s trip to Ecuador two years earlier, around 12,000 to 13,000 people paid 25 cents a piece for the chance to admire it when it was exhibited in New York shortly after its completion. Church played up the sense of drama by displaying the painting in a dark room with a single spotlight on the artwork. He then went on tour to eight US cities and London, where large crowds were drawn to the beautiful scenery. When it finally sold for $ 10,000, it was the highest price ever paid for a work of art by a living American artist at the time.

Bierstadt, who was of German descent, is particularly known for his monumental paintings of the American West. Only Church rivaled him in glory and it is thanks to Bierstadt that we have the first paintings of Yosemite. Its presence was often requested by early explorers of the American West, who admired its technical prowess associated with its subject. His series of paintings depicting the Rocky Mountains was very successful, as it allowed people who had not visited these new parts of the United States to see more of their own country.

View of the Rocky Mountains by Albert Bierstadt

“Landscape of the Rocky Mountains” by Albert Bierstadt, 1870. (Photo: public domain via White House)

Hudson River School Legacy

By the time the centenary was celebrated in 1876, the popularity of the Hudson River School was waning. Popular taste turns to France, where intimate landscapes settle. Gone are the days when the monumental larger-than-life paintings by Church and Bierstadt drew crowds.

After World War I, the style saw a slight revival as the country went through a period of extreme national pride. Today, the Hudson River School is recognized for its importance in the development of an Indigenous artistic culture in America. The Hudson River Valley prides itself on being the home of this movement, and it is possible to visit the home of Thomas Cole and walk through the areas that inspired its evocative landscapes.

We also have several school members to thank for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Church, along with John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford was among the founders of the museum. In fact, today there are a number of important works by these artists in the collection. Another important collection of paintings by Cole and Church can be found at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. As the painters were close friends of the founder of the museum, nearly 25 of their paintings are in the collection.

Characteristics of the Hudson River School

“Lake George” by John Frederick Kensett, 1869. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Frederic Edwin Church - Hudson River School

‘Niagara’ by Frederic Edwin Church, 1857. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Origins of the Hudson River Valley

“The Catskills” by Asher Brown Durand, 1859. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Albert Bierstadt Painting of Yosemite

“A Look at the Yosemite Valley” by Albert Bierstadt, 1865. (Photo: public domain via Wikipedia)

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