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The Hudson River School American Art 1820-1870 Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University Note: Unfortunately, this slide show does not work well in Firefox. Use Internet Explorer if you want to see all the pictures and notes. Background: pre-1825 Portraiture European influence

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The Hudson River School

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The hudson river school l.jpg

The Hudson River School

American Art 1820-1870

Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University

Note: Unfortunately, this slide show does not work well in Firefox. Use Internet Explorer if you want to see all the pictures and notes.

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Background: pre-1825

  • Portraiture

    • European influence

    • American “Naive” style

      • Flat design, spare painting (Ammi Phillips, 1788-1865)

  • Landscapes

    • Often appear as detail of portraiture: property seen through an open window indicates wealth

    • Washington Allston’s imaginary landscapes

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European influence:

  • John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere, 1768

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Naïve style

  • Ammi Phillips, Portrait of Harriet Campbell, 1815

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Naïve style

  • Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (1834)

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Formal Principles

  • Not merely topographic but interpretive and poetic views of nature

  • Formal composition and attention to detail

  • Depictions of harmony in nature

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  • “Home in the Wilderness”

  • Juncture of civilization and wilderness: “Wilderness on the doorstep”

  • Incursions of civilization and progress

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Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return (1845)

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Thomas Cole, Home in the Woods (1847)

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

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Thomas Doughty, Home on the Hudson

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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 l.jpg

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

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E. C. Coates, West Point (1855)

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Thomas Cole, The Clove, Catskills (1827)

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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

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The Beautiful

  • Feminine qualities

  • Harmony

  • Sociability

  • Pastels

  • Sensual curves

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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

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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

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Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

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

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  • 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

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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

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

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The Hudson River School

  • Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

  • Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)

  • Thomas Doughty (1793-1856)

  • John William Casilear

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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.”

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Thomas Cole

  • Lake withDead Trees (1825)

  • The painting that made Cole famous.

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

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

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Thomas Cole, The Ox-Bow (1836)

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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.”

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Asher B. Durand, Hudson River Scene (1846)

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Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits (1849)

  • Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant

  • See Bryant’s “To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe.”

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John William Casilear, View on Lake George, 1857

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Panoramists and Luminists

  • Second Generation of Hudson River school

  • Style of Hudson River painters applied to other regions:

    • Rocky Mountains

    • South America

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  • Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900)

  • Frederic E. Church (1826-1900)

  • John Frederick Kensett (1816-1873)

  • George Inness (1825-1894)

  • Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

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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.

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Jasper Cropsey, Palisades at Sunset (Spyten Duyvil)

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Jasper Cropsey, Gates of the Hudson

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Jasper Cropsey, Autumn on the Hudson (1860)

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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

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Frederick Edwin Church, Falls of Niagara (1857)

Compare this painting with a photograph taken near the same spot in 2000.

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The Heart of the Andes (1859)

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Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness (1860)

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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.”

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George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855

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

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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)

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

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

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Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley (1875)

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John Quidor (1801-1881)

Not of the Hudson River school

Created dreamlike, fanciful interpretations of literary scenes

Artisan-painter: uses bright, ornamental colors

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The Return of Rip Van Winkle (c.1849)

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Illustration from The Pioneers

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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)

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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.

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