Hudson River School Artwork

The Hudson River School

A group of artists known as the Hudson River School painted romantic landscape scenes, some of which depicted the American setting for Washington Irving’s works. These artists included Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt, and their works may be seen at many American museums; a few examples can be viewed below. You may learn more from the Metropolitan Museum’s excellent essay.

Thomas Cole's 1836 painting, known as The Oxbow, belongs to the Hudson River School of painting.

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm–The Oxbow
1836, Thomas Cole

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908 (08.228)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
www.metmuseum.org

“Long known as The Oxbow, this work is a masterpiece of American landscape painting, laden with possible interpretations. In the midst of painting The Course of Empire (New-York Historical Society), Cole mentioned, in a letter dated March 2, 1836, to his patron Luman Reed, that he was executing a large version of this subject expressly for exhibition and sale. The picture was shown at the National Academy of Design in 1836 as View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm. Cole’s interest in the subject probably dates from his 1829–32 trip to Europe, during which he made an exact tracing of the view published in Basil Hall’s Forty Etchings Made with the Camera Lucida in North America in 1827 and 1828. Hall criticized Americans’ inattentiveness to their scenery, and Cole responded with a landscape that lauds the uniqueness of America by encompassing “a union of the picturesque, the sublime, and the magnificent.” Although often ambivalent about the subjugation of the land, here the artist juxtaposes untamed wilderness and pastoral settlement to emphasize the possibilities of the national landscape, pointing to the future prospect of the American nation. Cole’s unequivocal construction and composition of the scene, charged with moral significance, is reinforced by his depiction of himself in the middle distance, perched on a promontory painting the Oxbow. He is an American producing American art, in communion with American scenery. There are both sketchbook drawings with annotations and related oil sketches of this subject. Many other artists copied or imitated the painting.”

–From “Thomas Cole: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm–The Oxbow” (08.228) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/08.228. (October 2006)

The Titan’s Goblet, 1883, Thomas Cole
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, Jr., 1904 (04.29.2)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

“Cole often painted fanciful landscapes, but this work [“The Titan’s Goblet” at left] may be his most enigmatic. Its main feature evolved from sketches the artist made in Italy in 1832 of fantastical fountains, bearded with foliage, which were evidently inspired by actual ones he saw at sites in Florence, Rome, and Tivoli, possibly informed further by the basinlike appearance of volcanic lakes near Rome such as Nemi and Albano. The artist himself inscribed the title on the back of the painting; thus, in including the sun behind the vastly amplified fountain, he may have been alluding to the mythological titan Helios, who rode a goblet through the nocturnal sky before mounting a chariot at dawn to illuminate the day.”

–From “Thomas Cole: The Titan’s Goblet” (04.29.2) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/04.29.2. (August 2009)

 

The Heart of the Andes, 1859, Frederic Edwin Church
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909 (09.95)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fully ten feet in breadth and rich in botanical detail, The Heart of the Andes is Church’s largest and most ambitious painting as well as the most popular in his time. It represents the culmination of two expeditions to Colombia and Ecuador in 1853 and 1857, inspired by the writings of the world-renowned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt conceived the equatorial landscape of the New World as a kind of laboratory of the planet in which the range of climatic zones, from torrid to frigid, could be studied from the jungles at sea level to the perpetual snow of Andean mountains such as Chimborazo, in Ecuador, represented in Church’s picture. Within its classical landscape format, the artist literally attempted to convey the variety of earthly life, most conspicuous in the lush foreground. At its three-week premier in 1859, The Heart of the Andes was housed in a huge windowlike frame and illuminated in a darkened room by concealed skylights. Twelve thousand people paid a quarter apiece to see it in New York, whence it toured Great Britain and seven other American cities until the eve of the Civil War.”

–From: “Frederic Edwin Church: The Heart of the Andes” (09.95) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/09.95. (August 2009)

 

The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863, Albert Bierstadt
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.123)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This painting is the major work that resulted from the artist’s first trip to the West. In spring 1859, he accompanied a government survey expedition, headed by Colonel Frederick W. Lander, to the Nebraska Territory. By summer, the party had reached the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains in what is now Wyoming. Bierstadt dubbed the central mountain in the picture Lander’s Peak following the colonel’s death in the Civil War. This was one of a number of large works painted after Bierstadt’s return from these travels. It was completed in 1863, exhibited to great acclaim, and purchased in 1865 for the then-astounding sum of $25,000 by James McHenry, an American living in London. Bierstadt later bought it back and gave or sold it to his brother Edward.”

–From “Albert Bierstadt: The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” (07.123) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/07.123. (October 2006)

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To learn more about this period, you may wish to read about Romanticism in general and/or American Romanticism.

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