Symbolism in Hudson River School The Hudson River artists were in search of an art form that would allow them to express and celebrate that which set America apart from Europe, and they found it in the paintings that captured the splendor of the American Landscape.
LAKES Albert Bierstadt Yosemite Valley 1865 Lakes represented the "eye of the human countance" a mirror reflecting the sublimity of the rest of the landscape, and, most importantly, linking the sky and the earth, God with man.
MAN Thomas Cole A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford's Notch) 1839 Like the French and Dutch, the Hudson River artists show man as a small part of a larger environment. Man's small stature implies a harmony with nature as well as his place in God's larger plan.
MOUNTAINS Thomas Cole The Subsiding Waters of the Deluge 1829 Mountains represented physical geology, that is, our physical differences from Europe as well as the great age of the American continent and the sign of God's hand on the American landscape.
LACK OF RUINS Thomas Doughty Fanciful Landscape 1834 The lack of ruins was one of the surest signs that America was both young and new and free of the corruption of monarchy implied by the presence of ruins on the landscape. Cole wrote "you see no ruined tower to tell of outrage - no gorgeous temple to speak of ostentation; but freedom's offspring – peace, security, and happiness, dwell there, the spirits of the scene."
SKY Jasper F. Cropsey Autumn of the Hudson 1860 To Cole, the sky represented "the soul of all scenery", the truly sublime in the landscape as well as spirituality.
STORMS Thomas Cole The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton) 1836 Storms had several different meanings. While they would eventually come to represent both the coming sectional crisis and tension over the encroaching technology that threaten the landscape, their original purpose was to represent the dark and violent side of the sublime, the terribilita, the primitive garden of which Leo Marx writes.
TREES Asher B. Durand Pastoral Landscape 1858 Trees are the true heroes of Hudson River art, as Cole wrote "they are like men...they exhibit striking peculiarities, and sometimes grand originality." The trees of the American landscape have a primitive quality that sets them apart from Europe, and their autumnal color "surpasses all the world in gorgeousness
WATERFALLS Albert Bierstadt Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863 Waterfalls suggested something special in the American experience according to Cole, both "unceasing change and everlasting duration", both "fixedness and motion".
Sources and Resources • American Literature and Culture- Hudson River School of Art • http://xroads.virginia.edu/%7EHYPER/DETOC/hudson/school1.html • Thanatopsis Painting • http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/american_paintings_and_sculpture/landscape_scene_from_thanatopsis/objectView.aspx?&OID=20011144&collID=2&vw=0