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Nature and the American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School
touring the United States in 2011 and 2012
Forty-five magnificent paintings from the rich collection of the New-York Historical Society will tour the United States in 2011 and 2012 in the major traveling exhibition Nature and the American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School. Though very seldom loaned, these iconic works of 19th-century landscape painting will now be circulated to four museums throughout the country as part of the Historical Society's traveling exhibitions program Sharing a National Treasure. (right: Thomas Cole (American, 1801-1848), Catskill Creek, N.Y., 1845, Oil on canvas, 26 1/2 x 36 inches (67.3 x 91.4 cm). The Robert L. Stuart Collection, S-157)
Nature and the American Vision will allow audiences to enjoy and study superb examples of the Historical Society's unsurpassed collection of Hudson River School paintings while the galleries of the N-YHS are closed for a transformative $65 million renovation project.
"Our mission for the Sharing a National Treasure program is to ensure that audiences throughout the United States have access to the great artworks and priceless artifacts of the New-York Historical Society, New York City's first museum and one of the nation's oldest collecting institutions," stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. "Nowhere is this mission more vital than in the traveling exhibition Nature and the American Vision. This tour keeps in public view some of the most important works of Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, George Inness and many others: the first artists to have created a consciously American tradition of painting."
Nature and the American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School will travel to:
The paintings will then return to their renovated home.
N-YHS Senior Art Historian Dr. Linda S. Ferber, who is curator of the exhibition, commented, "The New-York Historical Society houses one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of landscape paintings by artists of the Hudson River School. We welcome this unique opportunity to share these treasures with a national audience."
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. A Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant from The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works has supported glazing of the works in the exhibition.
Plan of the Exhibition
The Hudson River School emerged during the second quarter of the 19th century in New York City. There, a loosely knit group of artists and writers forged the first self-consciously American landscape vision and literary voice. That American vision-still widely influential today-was grounded in a view of the natural world as a source of spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity. This vision was first expressed through the magnificent scenery of the Hudson River Valley region, including the Catskills, which was accessible to writers, artists and sightseers via traffic on the great river that gave the school its name. (left: Jasper Francis Cropsey (American, 1823-1900), Sunset, Lake George, New York , 1867, Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 44 inches (61.6 x 111.8 cm). The Robert L. Stuart Collection, S-126)
The exhibition tells this story in four thematic sections. Within these broad groupings, the paintings show how American artists embodied powerful ideas about nature, culture and history-including the belief that a special providence was manifest to Americans in the continent's sublime landscape.
The American Grand Tour features paintings of the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountain regions celebrated for their scenic beauty and historic sites, as well as views of Lake George, Niagara Falls and the New England countryside. These were the destinations that most powerfully attracted both artists and travelers. The American Grand Tour also includes paintings that memorialize the Hudson River itself as the gateway to the touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.
American Artists A-Field includes works by Hudson River School artists who after 1850 sought inspiration further from home. The paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Martin Johnson Heade show how these globe-trotting painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and thrilled audiences with images of the landscape wonders of such far-flung places as the American frontier, Yosemite Valley and South America.
Dreams of Arcadia: Americans in Italy features wonderful paintings by Cole, Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford, and others celebrating Italy as the center of the Old World and the principal destination for Americans on the European Grand Tour. Viewed as the storehouse of Western culture, Italy was a living laboratory of the past, with its cities, galleries, and countryside offering a survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity, as well as a striking contrast to the wilderness vistas of North America portrayed by these same artists.
In the final section of the exhibition, Grand Landscape Narratives, all of these ideas converge in Thomas Cole's five-painting series The Course of Empire (c. 1834-36), imagining the rise of a great civilization from an unspoiled landscape, and the ultimate decay of that civilization into ruins scattered in the same wilderness. These celebrated paintings explore the tension between Americans' deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress, recapitulating the larger story told in Nature and the American Vision.
Catalogue to Accompany the Exhibition
The ideas and beliefs explored in the exhibition are also investigated in an award-winning 224-page catalogue by Linda S. Ferber: The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, published by Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc. Featuring 150 full-color illustrations of works from the acclaimed collection of the New-York Historical Society, the catalogue places the splendid paintings in the traveling exhibition into a broad historical and cultural context. Dr. Ferber received the 2010 Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogues of Distinction in the Arts from the New York State Historical Association for the volume.
About the Hudson River School Collection of the New-York Historical Society
The Historical Society's rich holdings of American art date back to the second half of the 19th century, when the museum acquired, through generous donation, the extensive painting collections formed by pioneering New York art patron Luman Reed (1787-1836). By 1944, the Society was also home to the extraordinary collection of Hudson River School art amassed by Robert Leighton Stuart (1806-1882), another of New York's prominent 19th-century art patrons. Works once belonging to these pioneering American collectors form the core of the traveling exhibition
(above: Asher Brown Durand (American, 1796-1886), White Mountain Scenery, Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, 1857, Oil on canvas, 48 1/4 x 72 1/2 inches (122.6 x 184.2 cm). The Robert L. Stuart Collection, S-105)
(above: William Hart (American, 1823-1894), On the Esopus, Meadow Groves, ca. 1857-58, Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 45 inches (64.1 x 114.3 cm). The Robert L. Stuart Collection, S-81)
(above: Louisa Davis Minot (American, 1788-1858), Niagara Falls, 1818, Oil on linen, 30 x 40 5/8 inches (76.2 x 103.2 cm). Gift of Mrs. Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Sr., to the Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Jr., Collection, 1956.4)
Resource Library editor's note
RL readers may also enjoy:
New-York Historical Society's online Media Center, accessed through the Public Programs page on its Web site, includes a 2 minute video of John Updike's tour of the Hudson River School exhibition with Linda Ferber, N-YHS Vice President & Museum Director, November 2005, plus other videos
The Boston Athenaeum partnered with the WGBH Forum Network for a series of lectures on American art by David Dearinger, who is Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum. An art historian and curator, he received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, with a specialty in nineteenth-century American art. Titles include Hudson River School of American Landscape Painting, (1 hour, 11 minutes) a general introduction to the famous Hudson River School of American landscape painting. [March 29, 2005]
DVD or VHS videos:
Hudson River and its Painters, The is a 57 minute 1988 video from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Series released by Home Vision Entertainment. The mid-nineteenth century saw the growth of America's first native school of landscape painters, artists inspired by the compelling beauty of the Hudson River Valley, who portrayed this and other romantic wilderness areas with an almost mystical reverence. This 57 minute video explores the life and work of the major artists of what came to be known as the Hudson River School -- Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, Worthington Whittredge, Sanford Gifford, and George Inness. Although its members traveled widely, the growth and development of the school were centered around New York City, and its success reflected the ambitions of the youthful American nation. It presents more than 200 paintings, prints and photographs of the period and juxtaposes them with dramatic location photography of the Hudson River area. The Hudson Company in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hudson River and its Painters, The is available through the Sullivan Video Library at The Speed Art Museum which holds a sizable collection of art-related videos available to educators at no charge. (image courtesy of Amazon.com)
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For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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