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THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL

 

In the vicinity of New York’s Hudson River Valley, the Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a group of American painters led by British born artist Thomas Cole, forged an artistic vision of the American wilderness. This was the first American school of painting that emerged between 1825 and 1880.  This is where men with the names of Cole, Durand, Cropsey, Bierstadt, and Church would impress the world with their artistic splendor and wondrous vision.

 

Here lied their future…and their message... This was the Hudson River School!  

 

 

THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL - PART 1: “ARTISTIC PIONEERS”

The natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley, a picturesque section of New York State, has been called an American paradise.  It has inspired many to dream, explore, express and interpret.  Here lived a group of gifted men committed to an artistic tradition with a focus on, and love of, nature and landscape painting.  Contributing to the advancement and development of American artistic style these men would soon come to be known as, The Hudson River School painters. These painters approached the woodland with reverent steps, hungry hearts and a voracious pursuit of the unknown.  Regarding nature as a direct manifestation of God they looked upon the dense forests, clear running streams, rugged mountains, mighty rivers, and open plains of the mid-west with a naïve wonderment and divine purpose that propelled their moral artistic mission.  

At their feet an unfamiliar country lay beyond the horizon overflowing with possibility.  This was a wild wilderness to be explored and conquered, and documented in a new vernacular for generations to decipher with imagination.  Nature spoke to these artists in a language only they could understand.  Streams spoke to them in antediluvian sound, the silence spoke to them in the spiritual reflection of a glass lake, the green and golden autumn leaves spoke to them in wide-eyed vibrant color, and the vistas spoke to their pioneering spirit. Nature’s symphony performed to create melodious, orchestral compositions of oil.  Hudson River School artist William Hart similarly described it this way: “A picture is a song - a piece of music.  In it one expresses, it may be, the sentiment of color, or the hour, or place.”  Inharmoniously, the label placed upon these men, “Hudson River School” was not intended as flattering, but it was hardly inappropriate.  The moniker, according to artist Worthington Whittredge, one of its members, was invented by a hostile critic writing for the New York Herald, but as Whittredge commented, “The critic probably never reflected that the Hudson River School, if it were a school, must have something distinctive about it and instead of the term being, as he intended, a term of ridicule, it might become a term of approbation.” 

Artist George Inness also defended the Hudson River label from the scorn it received: “Certain members of the National Academy have been stigmatized, I know, as the Hudson River School.  But if they have artistic vitality really sufficient to form a society devoted to the development of scenic landscape, why should there not be such a school?”

Despite the initial disapproving undertone the term Hudson River School is now widely accepted and respected for the similarity of thought, manner and method conveyed by its highly skilled members, and the name proudly stands today as a fitting tribute to the first significant artistic fraternity in America.  And their legacy lives on!

THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL - PART 2: "CULTIVATING A TRADITION"

Between 1825 and 1875 members of The Hudson River School would come to create a style distinctively all their own. The first generation of Cole and Durand would give way to a second generation who would expand their palette with a European technique that was ambitious, atmospheric and immersed in light. This artistic innovation was later hailed as, “The Luminist Movement!”  The Hudson River School: Part 2 – "Cultivating a Tradition" tells the story of these revolutionary artists who would become some of the best landscape painters in the world.    

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