The Hudson River School
American Art 1820-1870
Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University
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Background: pre-1825
European influence
American “Naive” style
Flat design, spare painting (Ammi Phillips, 1788-1865)
Often appear as detail of portraiture: property seen through an open window indicates wealth
Washington Allston’s imaginary landscapes

European influence:
John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere, 1768

Naďve style
Ammi Phillips, Portrait of Harriet Campbell, 1815

Naďve style
Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (1834)

Formal Principles
Not merely topographic but interpretive and poetic views of nature
Formal composition and attention to detail
Depictions of harmony in nature

“Home in the Wilderness”
Juncture of civilization and wilderness: “Wilderness on the doorstep”
Incursions of civilization and progress

Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return  (1845)

Thomas Cole, Home in the Woods (1847)

Thomas Cole, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of his Cabin on the Great Osage Lake, Kentucky, 1826

Thomas Doughty, Home on the Hudson

Juxtaposition of elements
Use of panoramic views and small human figures 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

Thomas Cole,  Scene from Last of the Mohicans”: Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund (1827)

E. C. Coates, West Point  (1855)

Thomas Cole, The Clove, Catskills (1827)

Sublime, Beautiful, Picturesque
Longinus, On the Sublime (AD 50)
Resulting from spirit--a spark from writer to reader--rather than technique
Edmund Burke, Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful  (1757-1759)
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790)
Beauty is finite; the sublime is infinite

The Beautiful
Feminine qualities
Sensual curves

Burke on the Sublime
Painful idea creates a sublime passion
Sublime concentrates the mind on a single facet of experience, producing a momentary suspension of rational activity
Harsh, antisocial, “masculine” representations exist in the realm of obscurity and brute force

The Sublime
“Agreeable horror” results from portrayals of threatening objects
Greater aesthetic value if the pain producing the effect is imaginary rather than real
Feelings of awe at sublime nature the aim of certain kinds of art
Influenced Poe, the “Graveyard School” of poetry, and Gothic novels

Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866)

Intermediate category between the sublime and the beautiful
Allowed the painter to organize nature into what Pope called a “wild civility”
William Gilpin: illustrated tours in the 1790s established the conventions

Characteristics of the Picturesque
Ruggedness and asymmetry
Irregularity of line
Contrasts of light and shadow
Landscape as a rundown Arcadia
Ruined towers, fractured rocks
Mossy banks and winding streams
Blighted or twisted trees
Appeal to nostalgia for preindustrial age

Thomas Cole, Roman Campagna (Ruins of Aqueducts in the Campagna di Roma), 1843

The Hudson River School
Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)
Thomas Doughty (1793-1856)
John William Casilear

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.”

Thomas Cole
Lake with
Dead Trees
The painting that made Cole famous.

 Allegorical and realistic landscapes: The Voyage of Life (Childhood) , 1842

Thomas Cole, A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford  Notch), 1839

Thomas Cole, The Ox-Bow  (1836)

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.”

Asher B. Durand, Hudson River Scene (1846)

Asher B. Durand,
Kindred Spirits  (1849)
Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant
See Bryant’s “To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe.”

John William Casilear, View on Lake George, 1857

Panoramists and Luminists
Second Generation of Hudson River school
Style of Hudson River painters applied to other regions:
Rocky Mountains
South America

Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900)
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900)
John Frederick Kensett (1816-1873)
George Inness (1825-1894)
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900)
Imitator of Cole’s allegorical works
Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress:
Sixty large scenes unrolled to music and lectures.
Panorama was eight feet high by 850’ long.
Entire presentation took about two hours.

Jasper Cropsey, Palisades at Sunset
(Spyten Duyvil)

Jasper Cropsey, Gates of the Hudson

Jasper Cropsey, Autumn on the Hudson (1860)

Frederick Edwin Church
Thomas Cole’s major pupil
Full-length “showpiece” landscapes
Falls of Niagara (1857)
Heart of the Andes (1859)
Landscape as symbol of divine
American continent as new Eden
Painted from nature, not notes and sketches

Frederick Edwin Church, Falls of Niagara (1857)
Compare this painting with a photograph taken near the same spot in 2000.

The Heart of the Andes (1859)

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness (1860)

George Inness (1825-1894)
The Lackawanna Valley (1855)
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.”

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855

W. L. Sonntag, Afternoon on the Hudson (1855)

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
One of first major artists to explore the West
The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863)
A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866)
Yosemite Valley (1875)

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863

Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866)

Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley (1875)

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)

Illustration from The Pioneers

Note on Sources
Among the sources used:
E. P. Richardson, Painting in America
Ellwood C. Parry, Art of Thomas Cole
John K. Howatt, The Hudson River and Its Painters
General knowledge about Hudson River school
Burke, Kant, Longinus
Pictures are mostly from Sandra Hildreth’s site (used with permission)

Web sites on the Hudson River School
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Brief discussion of the school from “I hear America Singing” at
Index of Hudson River paintings (many images)
The Artfact site has a brief description of the school and links to many of the lesser-known painters.
More paintings and links from
The Albany Institute has images of paintings by Cole, Durand, and others.
Hudson River School entry from Wikipedia.
A project by Kathleen Hogan (American Studies) at the University of Virginia discusses Alexis de Tocqueville and the Hudson River School.
The New-York Historical Society site features an essay on the school and a description of the museum’s current exhibition on New York paintings, which runs through February 2006.