Albany Institute of History and Art

Albany, NY

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Three Centuries of American Landscape Painting


THREE CENTURIES OF AMERICAN LANDSCAPE PAINTING opened recently at the Albany Institute of History & Art. This exhibition presents examples of American landscape painting from the early 1700s to the present and highlights the museum's collection. Some of the paintings included in the exhibition which will be on view through September 27, 1998 include:

Perspective Painting of Lake George by Ezra Ames c. 1812; Cattskill Creek (Summer Aftemoon) by Asher B. Durand c. 1830; The Gardens of the Van Rensselaer Manor House by Thomas Cole c, 1 841; Morning, Looking West Over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains by Frederic E. Church c. 1848; Storm King on the Hudson by Homer Dodge Martin c. 1862; Lake George by Alfred Thompson Bricher c. 1866; Dawn of Morning, Lake George by Jasper Cropsey c. 1868; Catskill Clove by Walter Launt Palmer c. 1880; Downtown Terrain by David Coughby c. 1984; View of the Hudson by Richard Callner c. 1987; Craggy Heights by Ethel Magafan c. 1988; Seth's Farm by Hany Orlyk c. 1988; Wake by Tom Sarrantonio c. 1994 and Ode to the Bee by Alan Gussow c. 1996.

American artists' views of the landscape have evolved over three centuries from mere observation in colonial times, to the symbolic meaning of nature in the nineteenth century, and on to the use of landscape as a catalyst to explore a wide variety of ideas. The earliest landscapes produced in America were created by English and French explorers interested in making a factual record of the new world. For most of the nineteenth century, American landscape painting glorifed the splendor of the vast wilderness of the new nation. In the Twentieth century the use of nature for making art changed; many artists realized that the natural world was an excellent source for exploring pure form, abstraction, and other ideas related to modernism.

The earliest known painted landscape of the Hudson River Valley is in the background of a portrait of Pau deWandelaer by Pieter Vanderfyn, painted c. 1730. Portraits such as this used landscape only as an incidental component, as a setting for the sitter and his/her possessions. Pure landscapes were unheard of since portraits and religious or historical scenes were considered the only valid subjects for art in the new world.

In the early 1800s, American artists began to see nature as something worthy of attention, for what were eventually recognized as the "sublime" qualities of the uncultivated American wilderness. By 1825, the year that artist Thomas Cole exhibited his first landscape paintings in New York City, nature as primary content for American art began to appear.

The Hudson River School artists sought to represent their feelings about the American wilderness and insisted on meticulous detail, brash color, and painstaking handling of paint . Also, one of the most important characteristics of the Hudson River School of painting was its religious and spiritual tendencies.

Fifty years after the origins of the Hudson River School, the movement began to fall out of favor. Americans became more interested in "worldly" art that incorporated eclectic forms of decoration and varied subject matter. The major art movements of the early twentieth century such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism all had landscape as significant subject matter.

For some artists the landscape has been adapted to the purposes of Modernism, something that can be manipulated by the artist for specific purposes. The wilderness of the Hudson River School era has given way to vast stretches of farmland, expanding cities, and a sprawling suburbia. While newer American artists have not rejected historical attitudes towards the land, they have however, found new meaning in the timeless experience of nature.

From top to bottom: Marcia Clark, Twilight, c. 1984, oil on canvas, collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art; David Coughtry, Downtown Terrain, c. 1984, oil on canvas, collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art; attributed to Pieter Vanderfyn, Pau deWandelaer, c. 1730-40, oil on canvas, collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art; Harry Orlyk, Seth's Farm, c. 1988, oil on canvas, collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art; Frederick E. Church, Morning, Looking East Over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains, 1848, oil on canvas, collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

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

rev. 11/26/10

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