Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision

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Nature_Cropsey_page_webThe Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown is presenting an exhibition showcasing over forty-five important 19th century landscape paintings by Hudson River School artists.  The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, organized by the New-York Historical Society, will run through September 29.

The exhibition is part of a collaborative project with The Glimmerglass Festival, Hyde Hall, and Olana State Historic Site, the home of Frederic Church.  Each organization features programming related to the Hudson River School throughout the summer.

Celebrated masterpieces rarely seen on tour include Thomas Cole’s iconic series of five monumental landscapes, The Course of Empire, ca. 1834-36. Other featured artists include Asher B. Durand, Frederic Edwin Church, John Frederick Kensett, George Inness, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Francis Augustus Silva, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Thomas Hill, and Albert Bierstadt.  Rising to eminence in New York during the mid-nineteenth century, this loosely knit group of artists forged a self-consciously American landscape vision grounded in the exploration of the natural world as a resource for spiritual renewal and as an expression of cultural and national identity.

Nature and the American Vision encapsulates some of the finest work of the Hudson River School artists,” said Fenimore Art Museum President and CEO Dr. Paul S. D’Ambrosio.  “These artists portrayed nature both as a divine force and as a symbol of national pride.  Some works touch upon the subject of conservation and preservation, with imagery portraying the emergence of industrialization in 19th century America, a deliberate foreshadowing to warn of the potential environmental issues that could ultimately obliterate the country’s pristine nature.”

The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision tells this compelling story through a series of themes, each contributing to the unifying narrative of nature and the American vision. Within these broad groupings, landscape imagery is also interpreted as a narrative device that embodies powerful ideas about nature, culture, and history.

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 Lake George, Niagara Falls, and New England.  These paintings illuminate the scenic destinations that drew both artists and travelers in the nineteenth century and still continue to attract visitors today. The American Grand Tour also includes paintings that memorialize the Hudson River itself as the gateway to other regions that were touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.

American Artists Afield. After 1850, many Hudson River School artists sought inspiration even farther from home. The paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and Martin Johnson Heade elucidate how these painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and simultaneously thrilled audiences with dramatic images of the landscape wonders from such far-flung places as the American frontier, the Yosemite Valley, and South America.

Dreams of Arcadia: Americans in Italy features romantic 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 visible survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity as well as a striking contrast to the sublime wilderness vistas of North America also portrayed by these artists.

Grand Landscape Narratives. All of these ideas converge in the final section with Thomas Cole’s iconic series: The Course of Empire. These five celebrated landscape paintings explore the tension between Americans’ deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress, recapitulating the larger story told by the other artists and landscape paintings in the exhibition.

The Fenimore Art Museum has made special arrangements with The Parthenon (which serves as the city of Nashville’s museum of art) to display the well-known Frederic Church painting The Wreck – making a direct connection with Olana State Historic Site, the home of Frederic Church, and the Glimmerglass Festival’s summer production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.  It is also sponsored in part by Fenimore Asset Management Fund of The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region.

More information about the Fenimore Art Museum can be found at the museum’s website.

Illustration: Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823–1900), Sunset, Lake George, New York, 1867. Oil on canvas, from the New-York Historical Society’s Robert L. Stuart Collection

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