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The Hudson River School: American Art, 1820-1870
Brief Outline Notes with Links to Paintings

Go to the PowerPoint presentation from the lecture: designed for GU use only
Web version of the PowerPoint presentation: designed for GU use only
. Index of Hudson River School Painters
Brief video and web page from PBS's "I hear America singing" site.

I. Background: Pre-1825 Types of Paintings

  • Portraiture
  • Landscapes
    • Often appear as a detail of portraiture: for example, the property seen through an open window in a portrait suggests the family's wealth.
    • Washington Allston's imaginary landscapes
II. Formal Principles
  • Not merely topographic but interpretive and poetic views of nature
  • Formal composition and attention to detail
  • Depictions of harmony in nature
  • III. Subjects
  • "Home in the Wilderness"
  • Juncture of civilization and wilderness: "Wilderness on the doorstep"
  • Incursions of civilization and progress
  • IV. Style
  • Juxtaposition of elements
  • Nature on a grand scale with smaller figures of man and markers of civilization
  • Use of panoramas to show immensity of nature and insignificance of human beings
  • Distant or elevated perspective for the viewer
  • Symbolic use of light and darkness
  • Contrast of diverse elements to show the unity of nature
  • IV. Sublime, Beautiful, Picturesque
    •  Edmund Burke, Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful  (1757-1759)
    • Beautiful: feminine qualities
      • Harmony
      • Sociability
      • Pastels
      • Sensual curves
    V. Sublime
  • Harsh, antisocial, "masculine"
  • Realm of obscurity and brute force
  • "Agreeable horror"
  • Feelings of sublimity from portrayals of threatening objects
  • Feelings of awe at sublime nature
  • Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872
  • Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866)
  • VI. Picturesque
  • Can be intermediate category (William Gilpin)
  • Ruggedness and asymmetry
  • Landscape as a rundown Arcadia
  • Ruined towers
  • Mossy banks
  • Appeal to nostalgia for preindustrial age
  • VII. The Hudson River School
  • Thomas Cole (1801-1848) (index to paintings)
  • Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)
  • Thomas Doughty (1793-1856)
  • John William Casilear
  • Thomas Moran
  • VII. Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
    • Discovered in 1825 by
    • John Trumbull
    • William Dunlap
    • Asher B. Durand
    • "The subject of art should be pure and lofty . . .a moral, religious, or poetic effect must be produced on the mind."
    •     Lake with Dead Trees(1825)
    VIII. Allegorical and realistic landscapes IX. Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)
    • Began as an engraver; turned to painting
    • "Letters on Landscape Painting" (1855) in The Crayon
    • "Go first to nature to learn to paint landscape."
  • John William Casilear, View on Lake George,   1857

  • X. Panoramists and Luminists: Second Generation
    • Style of Hudson River painters applied to other regions:
      • Rocky Mountains, South America
    • Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900)
    • John Frederick Kensett (1816-1873)
    • Frederick E. Church (1826-1900)
    • George Inness (1825-1894)
    • Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
    XI. Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900) XI. Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900) XII. George Inness (1825-1894)
    • Landscape meditation on relation of man and nature
    • Harmonious integration of man's progress and landscape
    • Unlike Cole: "A work of art does not appeal to the moral sense.  Its aim is not to instruct and edify, but to awaken an emotion."
  • W. L. Sonntag, Afternoon on the Hudson (1855)

  • XIII. Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

    XIV. John Quidor (1801-1881)
    • Not of the Hudson River school
    • Created dreamlike, fanciful interpretations of literary scenes
    • Artisan-painter: uses bright, ornamental colors
    • The Return of Rip Van Winkle (c.1849)
    For more information on the Hudson River School of painters:
    Web sites 

    Albany Institute of History and Art
    Sandra Hildreth's project on the Hudson River painters
    Desmond Fish Library links to paintings

    Thomas Cole's paintings (index at Yale)
    Carol Gerten Jackson's site

    Thanks to English 310 (Fall 1998) student Holly Holmes for suggesting these references: 

    Boime, Albert. The Magisterial Gaze. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1991. 

    Callow, James T. Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967. 

    Deakin, Motley F. Introduction. The Home Book of the Picturesque: or, American Scenery, Art, and Literature. 1852. Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967. 

    Comments to D. Campbell.