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River Views of the Hudson River School
Through October 26, 2009
On view through October 26, 2009, the Thomas Cole Historic Site presents a new exhibition entitled River Views of the Hudson River School exploring the subject of the Hudson River in the landscape paintings of major figures of the 19th century including Thomas Cole, Sanford Gifford, and Jasper Cropsey. The exhibition, focusing on the Hudson River, coincides with the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage. (right: Alfred T. Bricher, Up the Hudson, 1864. oil on canvas, 12 x 20 inches. Private collection)
The Hudson River held and continues to hold deep symbolism as America's first river. The inclusion of the Hudson River in a 19th-century painting was often resonant with meaning. This exhibition of 19th-century views of the Hudson River explores the artists' choices regarding depictions of the river and its related tributaries, especially in the region of Catskill where Thomas Cole made his home. It also ties in with the celebrations planned all along the river as part of the Quadricentennial.
"Part of the magic of this exhibition is that the landscapes just outside the gallery walls are, in many cases, very much the same as they were 150 years ago," said Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole Historic Site. "In the year when people will be rediscovering the Hudson River, I can think of no better way to visit it than through the eyes of the Hudson River School artists."
The exhibition of approximately fifteen Hudson River paintings offers a unique opportunity to display the works of major 19th century landscape artists in a venue located in the midst of the sites that inspired them. To enhance the connection between the paintings and the surrounding landscapes, a series of guided hikes are also being offered to the scenes in the paintings, just minutes away from the Thomas Cole Historic Site.
While Thomas Cole was certainly not the first artist to capture the grandeur of the American landscape, Cole's depictions of the Hudson Valley were of locations real, known, and recently visited by an emerging tourist population. Cole challenged a long-held practice in landscape painting in which picturesque or sublime views were scenes of the imagination. European masters of the seventeenth century, such as Claude Lorraine and Salvatore Rosa, gained importance through compositions that displayed nature's beauty, power and awe. Yet their landscapes, while based in nature, were constructions of the mind. Artists of the Hudson River School, conversely, utilized the aesthetic theory of the academic past but looked to the mountains, rivers, and sky around them as their subject matter.
The enormous success of these artists rested in part in their ability to produce scenes of wonder that resonated with the public. Wealthy patrons, whose ranks included both aristocratic families and a newly formed merchant class, supported American painters such as Cole and Durand. Outside the limited number of patrons, the majority of Americans interested in learning about or traveling to the Hudson Valley were part of an expanding middle class. Increasingly they purchased, if not original compositions on canvas, individual engravings, books of poetry, travel guides, and illustrated books dedicated to celebrating the picturesque and sublime qualities of the American landscape.
Among the highlights of the exhibition are views from high up in the Catskills, in which the river is a silver ribbon in the middle of a vast eastward prospect. For example, Jervis McEntee's Sunset in the Catskills from 1867 shows off the dramatic view from the eastern ledges of the Catskill "Escarpment," and an unusual small painting by Thomas Cole, Indians Viewing Landscape, depicts two Native Americans overlooking what could be the Hudson Valley from a rocky perch. Other highlights include Arthur Parton's Mount Merino, offering a window into the Hudson River of the past, and Regis Francis Gignoux', On the Upper Hudson, an overtly Romantic vision of the Hudson.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Nancy Siegel, Associate Professor of Art History at Towson University in Towson, MD. Curator of "Along the Juniata: Thomas Cole and the Dissemination of American Landscape Imagery" and "The Morans: The Artistry of a Nineteenth-Century Family of Painter-Etchers," both at the Phillips Museum of Art and other institutions. Scholarly publications include "Within the Landscape: Essays on Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture." Dr. Siegel wrote the essay for the exhibition catalogue, which is available for purchase at www.thomascole.org/shop.
About Thomas Cole
Long regarded as the founder of America's first art movement, known as the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is a central figure in the development of American culture. When Cole made his first trip up the Hudson River in 1825, American cultural leaders were searching for something distinctly American to establish the nation's own culture as separate from that of Europe. Thomas Cole found it in the Catskill Mountain wilderness, which came to symbolize the unspoiled character of the new nation. Lionized during his lifetime and celebrated by a generation of artists who followed in his footsteps, Cole is now widely regarded as the father of American landscape painting.
About Cedar Grove
Cedar Grove is the site where the artist Thomas Cole lived,
worked, was married, and where he died at the age of 47. Today the site
consists of the Federal style brick home (c. 1815) in which Thomas Cole
resided with his family, as well as the artist's original studio building,
on five landscaped acres with a magnificent view of the Catskill Mountains.
Cedar Grove is located at 218 Spring Street in Catskill, New York, near
the western entrance to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, with easy access from
the New York State Thruway, Exit 21.
Catalogue of Works
All of the works for this exhibition are on loan from a private collection, courtesy of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA.
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For biographical information on artists referenced in this essay please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Thomas Cole Historic Site in Resource Library.
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