New-York Historical Society

New York, NY



Intimate Friends: Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, William Cullen Bryant

October 24, 2000, - February 4, 2001


Curated by art scholars Barbara Novak and Ella M. Foshay, the exhibition. Intimate Friends draws on The New-York Historical Society's rich holdings of paintings, manuscripts and periodicals related to Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, founders of the Hudson River School, the first American school of landscape painting, and their friend, the poet-editor William Cullen Bryant. A four-color catalogue written by Barbara Novak and Ella Foshay accompanies the exhibition. (left: Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), White Mountian Scenery, Franconia Notch, N. H., 1857, The Robert L. Stuart Collection, on permanent loan to The New-York Historical Society from the New York Public Library)

Intimate Friends complements Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861, a major fall exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exploring more deeply the artistic community of the period. (left: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Course of Empire, Desolation)

Visitors to the Historical Society will be able to learn even more about Asher B. Durand's career as a painter at a permanent installation in The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture opening at the Historical Society on November 17, 2000. The Luce Center will display Durand's palette box and other objects from his studio. (right: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Sunset (View on Catskill Creek, New York), 1834, oil on wood panel, Gift of the New York Gallery of Fine Arts, 1858.44)

The poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant, friend and muse to Cole and Durand, shared with them a deep attachment to nature in the New World, which he celebrated in his poetry, particularly in "Thanatopsis," perhaps the most beloved and quoted American poem of 19th-century. As editor of the New York Evening Post, Bryant helped promote the art of Cole and Durand. Bryant's relationship to the two painters is illustrated in the exhibition through newspapers, manuscripts and books. (left: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), The Course of Empire, The Consummation of Empire. 1836-36, oil on canvas, Gift of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts, 1858)

Thomas Cole's five-part painting cycle The Course of Empire, a treasure held by the Historical Society since 1858, is a centerpiece of the exhibition. In addition to major Durand canvases, The Historical Society has a large collection of Durand sketches, which are used in the exhibit to demonstrate his artistic process. (right: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Study for A Dream of Arcadia)

Barbara Novak conducted the research for her doctoral dissertation on Cole and Durand at the Historical Society in the 1950s. Her important contributions to scholarship on American art - most notably American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, and the American Experience (Icon, 2000) and Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-1875 (Oxford, 1996) - are based on this work. Ella Foshay was a student of Barbara Novak at Barnard College and Columbia University, where she received her Ph.D. in American art and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has since taught art history at Columbia and at Barnard and Vassar colleges. The exhibition design is by Stephen Saitas. (left: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Course of Empire, Destruction)

This triad - Cole, Durand, Bryant - were crucial in the formation of 19th-century American artistic taste and attitudes toward the natural world. The exhibition explores the ideas about nature and civilization, the Old World and the New World that were central to the conversation among the three men. All three viewed the unspoiled American landscape as a great moral teacher. They differed in their relationship to the European artistic tradition. Cole traveled and sketched extensively in Europe and in his major work combined the idealizing tendency of contemporary European landscape artists with Native American subjects. Durand, who did not travel to Europe, painted nature as he saw it without rearranging his composition to suit European landscape conventions. Professor Novak views Durand's open-air oil sketches on exhibition as a foreshadowing of Impressionism. (left: Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), Study from Nature, Stratton Notch, Vermont, 1853, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Lucy Maria Durand Woodman, daughter of the artist; right: (left: Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), Pencil Study)


Read an illustrated review on this exhibition by in The City Review

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