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Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Carnegie Museum of Art is presenting an exhibition of Hudson River school masterpieces from one of the world's foremost collections through May 9, 2004. The Hudson River school, active between 1825 and 1870, is the nation's first native school of landscape painting. The detailed panoramas of unspoiled American wilderness, which are the hallmark of Hudson River school painters, are rooted in Romanticism, and give visual expression to the moral and spiritual themes found in the literature of the time and in the Bible. The exhibition features a selection of 55 paintings, including 10 by Thomas Cole, 11 by Frederic Church, and five by Albert Bierstadt.
Louise Lippincott, curator of fine art at Carnegie Museum of Art, said, "This is an extraordinary opportunity for Carnegie Museum of Art's visitors to see an important legacy to American art. Because of the quality and number of works in the show, viewers should get a true sense of how the Hudson River school artists not only captured, but also helped to shape the reverence for our nation's beauty and grandeur, which was so prevalent in the mid-19th-century."
Two major patrons of American artists who lived in Hartford, Connecticut formed the core of this Hudson River school collection: Daniel Wadsworth (1771 - 1848), a traveler, amateur artist and architect, and founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum, and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt (1826 - 1905), widow of arms manufacturer Samuel Colt. Many works were commissioned for their personal enjoyment.
Due to their patronage, the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection reflects the evolving aesthetic sensibilities of two generations of Hudson River school painters. In turn, the works reveal the emerging sense of an American national identity. They were created to illustrate the beauty of American landscape, but were also connected to a broad range of social, economic, and political developments during their time. This emerging American national identity was also evident in the writings of 19th-century authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Walt Whitman.
The origins of the Hudson River school traditionally are attributed to Thomas Cole, who was born in England and raised in Ohio before arriving in New York City in 1825. Cole was a more cerebral painter than his predecessors, and he used his art as a moral as well as aesthetic platform. Breaking from the traditional European taste for manicured pastoral views, Cole depicted the virginal, primeval wilderness of the American Northeast. It was a paradise already lost, however, for Native Americans had been chased from their lands, white settlements had been long established, and tourism was beginning to boom.
Wadsworth introduced 17-year-old Hartford native and aspiring artist Frederic Church to Thomas Cole, who made Church his sole apprentice. Wadsworth then purchased Church's first mature painting, Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford in 1636 (created in 1846), for $130, acquiring it for the newly founded Wadsworth Atheneum. Church was then 20 years of age.
Wadsworth's friendships with these artists helped him define his ambition to establish the county's first permanent gallery of fine art. Later acquisitions and gifts by donors such as Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt added significant works by all the major Hudson River school artists, including Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford, John William Casilear, Asher Brown Durand, and John F. Kensett. Because many of the works in the collection were commissioned by Wadsworth and Colt, the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection has a consistency that reflects the major concerns of the young nation and its artists as well as their aesthetic sensibilities.
The exhibition was organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, from its permanent collection and will travel to five other museums across the United States. The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition is published by Yale University Press.
Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art will also be on view at North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC (June 6 -August 29, 2004), Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK (February 6 - April 24, 2005), The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (June - August 2005), and Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN (September 15, 2005 - January 8, 2006).
Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:
Also see the Hudson River School Painters article from AskArt.com accompanied by a list of notable Hudson Rive School artists.
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