Hudson River Museum

Yonkers, New York


Photo: Quesada/Burke


Open Air Sketching: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Drawings in the Albany Institute of History and Art


"Open Air Sketching: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Drawings in the Albany Institute of History and Art," an exhibition of important 19th-century American drawings, including rarely seen works by Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Jasper F. Cropsey and other members of the Hudson River School, is on view in the Gienview Galleries of The Hudson River Museum beginning Friday, May 19 and ending Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000. (left: Edward Lamson Henry, European Album, 1860-61, pencil, wash on paper, 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches, Collection of Albany Institute of History and Art)

Seen as the leader of a new art movement and community, Thomas Cole popularized open-air sketching as a crucial preliminary stage of a completed landscape painting. By directly portraying scenic vistas and individual trees, rocks and flowers, artists collected the necessary data for their grand studio canvases that would be "true to nature."

"Because these nineteenth-century landscape painters wanted their work to be as accurate as possible, they took great care in detailing these study drawings," said Museum Director Philip Verre. "For example, in an 1850s view of Fort Putnam, Jasper Cropsey even made numerous written notations on his drawings to remind himself of the types of trees and the colors in the scene. (right: Margaret Boyd Bush, European Sketchbook, 1883, pen, ink, wash on paper, 7 x 10 inches, Collection of Albany Institute of History and Art)

Open Air Sketching features an early Cole sketchbook, dated around 1823. which reveals his studious approach to learning to draw -- copying from engravings as well as actual nature. Sanford Gifford's delicate pencil studies in two sketchbooks on view, range from individual details of trees and rocks in the Catskills to a panoramic vista, in miniature, of North Conway, NH.

Though most of the drawings in the exhibition are pencil on white paper, others feature pen and ink, ink wash, white gouache (a dense water based paint) or watercolors.

Compared to spontaneous outdoor studies, drawings for paintings or engravings are more likely to be "compositions" in which the artist has rearranged and introduced certain elements to enhance composition and meaning. In Cole's series of three drawings of Long Dock at Catskill Landing -- probably preparations for an engraving -- visitors can see his fresh nature sketch evolve into something more finished, with additional symbolic details of a tree stump and human figures.

Gradually, drawings began to be appreciated for their own artistic merit and even produced as finished pieces or "presentation drawings."

A concluding highlight of Open Air Sketching is a series of four circular drawings (1859-60) presented to the young daughter of sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, by his friends Frederic Church, William Hart, James Hart and George Boughton.

The Museum has created an additional interpretive component to the exhibit, examining the different processes involved when advancing from a preliminary study to finished piece. Examples by 19th century and contemporary artists -- including Martin Johnson Heade, James Brevoort. Jasper Cropsey and living artists Richard Haas and Yvonne Jacquette -- introduce an understanding and appreciation of different working techniques and mediums.

Open Air Sketching was curated by Elizabeth F. Alien. This project is supported in part by a generous grant from the May K. Houck Foundation and the Women's Council of the Albany Institute of History and Art. This exhibition is sponsored by United States Trust Company of New York.

Readers may also enjoy pictures of Hudson River School paintings via the Desmond-Fish Library, and details including biographies, auction records, museum holdings, top dealers, book and magazine references on over 70 Hudson River School artists courtesy of

Further related reading from our archive of previously published articles:

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Hudson River Museum.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/1/11

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