Hudson River School

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by Romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains; eventually works by the second generation of artists associated with the school expanded to include other locales in New England, the Maritimes, the American West, and South America.


Neither the originator of the term Hudson River School nor its first published use has been fixed with certainty. The term is thought to have originated with the New York Tribune art critic Clarence Cook or the landscape painter Homer Dodge Martin.[1] As originally used, the term was meant disparagingly, as the work so labeled had gone out of favor after the plein-air Barbizon School had come into vogue among American patrons and collectors.

Hudson River School paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration, and settlement.[2] The paintings also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully. Hudson River School landscapes are characterized by their realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrayal of nature, often juxtaposing peaceful agriculture and the remaining wilderness, which was fast disappearing from the Hudson Valley just as it was coming to be appreciated for its qualities of ruggedness and sublimity.[3] In general, Hudson River School artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was an ineffable manifestation of God,[4] though the artists varied in the depth of their religious conviction. They took as their inspiration such European masters as Claude Lorrain, John Constable and J. M. W. Turner. Their reverence for America's natural beauty was shared with contemporary American writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Several painters were members of the Düsseldorf school of painting, others were educated by the German Paul Weber.[5]

While the elements of the paintings were rendered realistically, many of the scenes were composed as a synthesis of multiple scenes or natural images observed by the artists. In gathering the visual data for their paintings, the artists would travel to extraordinary and extreme environments, which generally had conditions that would not permit extended painting at the site. During these expeditions, the artists recorded sketches and memories, returning to their studios to paint the finished works later.

A number of women artists were associated with the Hudson River School, though they tend to be less well known because they were excluded from formal training during most of the 19th century and had fewer exhibition opportunities. Notable women painters of the Hudson River School include Susie M. Barstow, an avid mountain-climber who painted the mountain scenery of the Catskills and the White Mountains; Eliza Pratt Greatorex, an Irish-born painter who was the second woman elected to the National Academy of Design; Julie Hart Beers, who led sketching expeditions in the Hudson Valley region before moving to a New York City art studio with her daughters; Harriet Cany Peale, who studied with fellow painter Rembrandt Peale; and Mary Blood Mellen, a student and collaborator with the luminist Fitz Henry Lane.[6][7]


Thomas Cole - A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning (1844) - Google Art Project
Thomas Cole, A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning, 1844, Brooklyn Museum of Art

The artist Thomas Cole is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School.[8] Cole took a steamship up the Hudson in the autumn of 1825, the same year the Erie Canal opened, stopping first at West Point, then at Catskill landing. He hiked west high up into the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York State to paint the first landscapes of the area. The first review of his work appeared in the New York Evening Post on November 22, 1825.[9] At that time, only the English native Cole, born in a landscape where autumnal tints were of browns and yellows, found the brilliant autumn hues of the area to be inspirational.[8] Cole's close friend, Asher Durand, became a prominent figure in the school as well.[10] An important part of the popularity of the Hudson River School was its celebration of its themes of nationalism, nature, and property. However, adherents of the movement were also suspicious (or perhaps ambivalent) of the economic and technological development of the age.[11]

Second generation

Albert Bierstadt - Among the Sierra Nevada, California - Google Art Project
Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1868, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.
JKensett Mount Washington (JJH-JFK001)
John Frederick Kensett, Mount Washington, 1869, Wellesley College Museum
Asher Brown Durand - The Catskills - Walters 37122
Asher Brown Durand, The Catskills, 1859, Walters Art Museum, reflects the "sublime landscape" approach employed by the Hudson River school of painting.[12]

The second generation of Hudson River school artists emerged to prominence after Cole's premature death in 1848; its members included Cole's prize pupil Frederic Edwin Church, John Frederick Kensett, and Sanford Robinson Gifford. Works by artists of this second generation are often described as examples of Luminism. In addition to pursuing their art, many of the artists, including Kensett, Gifford and Church, were among the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.[13]

Most of the finest works of the second generation were painted between 1855 and 1875. During that time, artists such as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt were celebrities. They were both influenced by the Düsseldorf school of painting, and Bierstadt had studied in that city for several years. When Church exhibited paintings such as Niagara[14] or The Icebergs,[15] thousands of people paid twenty-five cents a head to view the solitary works. The epic size of these landscapes, unexampled in earlier American painting, reminded Americans of the vast, untamed, but magnificent wilderness areas in their country. Such works were being painted during the period of settlement of the American West, preservation of national parks, and establishment of green city parks.


Along with museum collections, Hudson River School art has had minor periods of resurgence in popularity. Philip Verre, director of the Hudson River Museum, described that the school gained interest after World War I, probably due to nationalist attitudes. A decline in interest then took place until the 1960s, and the regrowth of the Hudson Valley has spurred further interest in the movement.[16]

Historic house museums and other sites primarily dedicated to the Hudson River School include Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in the town of Catskill, the Newington-Cropsey Foundation's historic house museum, art gallery, and research library in Hastings-on-Hudson, and the John D. Barrow Art Gallery in the village of Skaneateles.


Public collections

One of the largest collections of paintings by artists of the Hudson River School is at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Some of the most notable works in the Atheneum's collection are 13 landscapes by Thomas Cole, and 11 by Hartford native Frederic Edwin Church, both of whom were personal friends of the museum's founder, Daniel Wadsworth.

Other collections

The Newington-Cropsey Foundation, in their Gallery of Art Building, maintains a research library of Hudson River School art and painters, open to the public by reservation.[18]

Notable artists

See also



  1. ^ Howat, John K (1987). American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 3, 4.
  2. ^ Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin; Ellis, Amy; Miesmer, Maureen (2003). Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. p. vii. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  3. ^ "The Panoramic River: the Hudson and the Thames". Hudson River Museum. 2013. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-943651-43-9. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  4. ^ "The Hudson River School: Nationalism, Romanticism, and the Celebration of the American Landscape". Virginia Tech History Department. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  5. ^ John K. Howat: American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, S. 311
  6. ^ Dobrzynski, Judith H. "The Grand Women Artists of the Hudson River School". Smithsonian. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  7. ^ "Remember the Ladies: Women Artists of the Hudson River School". Resource Library. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  8. ^ a b O'Toole, Judith H. (2005). Different Views in Hudson River School Painting. Columbia University Press. p. 11.
  9. ^ Boyle, Alexander. "Thomas Cole (1801-1848) The Dawn of the Hudson River School". Hamilton Auction Galleries. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  10. ^ "Asher B. Durand". Smithsonian American Art Museum: Renwick Gallery. Smithsonian Museum. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  11. ^ Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye (1996); Alfred L. Brophy, Property and Progress: Antebellum Landscape Art and Property, McGeorge Law Review 40 (2009): 601-59.
  12. ^ "Walters Art Museum: The Catskills". The Walters Art Museum. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  13. ^ Avery, Kevin J. "Metropolitan Museum of Art: Frederick Edwin Church". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Corcoran Highlights: Niagara". Corcoran Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  15. ^ Potter, Russell A. "Review of 'The Voyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Edwin Church's Arctic Masterpiece'". Rhode Island College. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  16. ^ Zimmer, William (October 17, 1999). "Hudson River School Just Keeps on Rolling". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  17. ^ White, Mark Andrew (2002). Progress on the Land: Industry and the American Landscape Tradition. Oklahoma City, OK: Melton Art Reference Library. pp. 6–13. ISBN 0-9640163-1-1.
  18. ^ Hershenson, Roberta (November 7, 1999). "Work Is in Dispute, but Cropsey's Home Is Open". The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  19. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  20. ^ Allaback, Sarah. "19th Century Painters: Hudson River School" (PDF). 2006. Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  21. ^ Rickey, Frederick. "Robert W. Weir (1803-1889)". United States Military Academy. Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012.


  • American paradise: the world of the Hudson River school. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1987. ISBN 9780870994968.
  • Avery, Kevin J., & Kelly, Frank (2003). Hudson River school visions: the landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780300101843.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Ferber, Linda S. The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision. New-York Historical Society, 2009.
  • Sullivan, Mark W. The Hudson River School: An Annotated Bibliography. Metcuhen, NJ; Scarecrow Press, 1991.
  • Wilmerding, John. American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980. ISBN 9780064389402. OCLC 5706999.

External links

Albert Bierstadt

Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.

Born in Prussia, Bierstadt was brought to the United States at the age of one by his parents. He later returned to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf. He became part of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along the Hudson River. Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. An important interpreter of the western landscape, Bierstadt, along with Thomas Moran, is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.

Asher Brown Durand

Asher Brown Durand (August 21, 1796 – September 17, 1886) was an American painter of the Hudson River School.

Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch is a major pass through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, located almost entirely within the town of Hart's Location. Roughly half of that town is contained in Crawford Notch State Park. The high point of the notch, at approximately 1,900 feet (580 m) above sea level, is at the southern end of the town of Carroll, near the Crawford Depot train station and Saco Lake, the source of the Saco River, which flows southward through the steep-sided notch. North of the high point of the notch, Crawford Brook flows more gently northwest to the Ammonoosuc River, a tributary of the Connecticut River.

The notch is traversed by U.S. Route 302, which closely follows the Saco River southeast to North Conway and less closely follows the Ammonoosuc River northwest to Littleton.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Cole)

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (or Expulsion from Paradise) was painted in 1828 by English-born American painter Thomas Cole. It belongs to the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and is on display in their Waleska Evans James Gallery (Gallery 236). This landscape painting exemplifies the style of the Hudson River School, which was a group of American landscape painters that Thomas Cole is credited with founding. On the lower left part of the cliff, Cole signed his name as "T Cole".

Frederic Edwin Church

Frederic Edwin Church (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900) was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, best known for painting large landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets. Church's paintings put an emphasis on realistic detail, dramatic light, and panoramic views. He debuted some of his major works in single-painting exhibitions to a paying and often enthralled audience in New York City. In his prime, he was one of the most famous painters in the United States.

Hudson Valley

The Hudson Valley (also known as the Hudson River Valley) comprises the valley of the Hudson River and its adjacent communities in the U.S. state of New York, from the cities of Albany and Troy southward to Yonkers in Westchester County. Depending upon the definition delineating its boundaries, the Hudson Valley encompasses a growing metropolis which is home to between 3 and 3.5 million residents centered along the north-south axis of the Hudson River.

James McDougal Hart

James McDougal Hart (May 10, 1828 – October 24, 1901), was a Scottish-born American landscape and cattle painter of the Hudson River School.

Jasper Francis Cropsey

Jasper Francis Cropsey (February 18, 1823 – June 22, 1900) was an important American landscape artist of the Hudson River School.

Kaaterskill Clove

Kaaterskill Clove is a deep gorge, or valley, in New York's eastern Catskill Mountains, lying just west of the village of Palenville and in Haines Falls. The clove was formed by Kaaterskill Creek, a tributary of Catskill Creek rising west of North Mountain, and is estimated by geologists to be as much as 1 million years old. Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop Mountain rise to the south of the gorge, while South Mountain is to its north. This makes the gorge as deep as 2,500 feet in places.

Kaaterskill Falls

Kaaterskill Falls is a two-stage waterfall on Spruce Creek in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, between the hamlets of Haines Falls and Palenville in Greene County. The two cascades total 260 feet (79 m) in height, making Kaaterskill Falls one of the highest waterfalls in New York, and one of the Eastern United States' tallest waterfalls.

The waterfalls are one of America's oldest tourist attractions, being depicted or described by many books, essays, poems and paintings of the early 19th century. Long before Alexis de Tocqueville's famous essay on America, Kaaterskill Falls was lauded as a place where a traveler could see a wilder image, a sort of primeval Eden. Beginning with Thomas Cole's first visit during 1825, they became a subject for painters of the Hudson River School, setting the wilderness ideal for American landscape painting. The Falls also inspired "Catterskill Falls", a poem by William Cullen Bryant.

List of Hudson River School artists

The following is a list of painters in the Hudson River School, a mid-19th-century American art movement. The movement was led by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. Some of these artists are also considered luminists, a related movement in mid-19th-century American painting that was characterized in the twentieth century. Their paintings depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, as well as the Catskill Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, and White Mountains of New Hampshire. Note that "school" in this sense refers to a group of people whose outlook, inspiration, output, or style demonstrates a common thread, rather than a learning institution.

Martin Johnson Heade

Martin Johnson Heade (August 11, 1819 – September 4, 1904) was an American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of tropical birds (such as hummingbirds), as well as lotus blossoms and other still lifes. His painting style and subject matter, while derived from the romanticism of the time, are regarded by art historians as a significant departure from those of his peers.

Heade was born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, the son of a storekeeper. He studied with Edward Hicks, and possibly with Thomas Hicks. His earliest works were produced during the 1840s and were chiefly portraits. He travelled to Europe several times as a young man, became an itinerant artist on American shores, and exhibited in Philadelphia in 1841 and New York in 1843. Friendships with artists of the Hudson River School led to an interest in landscape art. In 1863, he planned to publish a volume of Brazilian hummingbirds and tropical flowers, but the project was eventually abandoned. He travelled to the tropics several times thereafter, and continued to paint birds and flowers. Heade married in 1883 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. His chief works from this period were Floridian landscapes and flowers, particularly magnolias laid upon velvet cloth. He died in 1904. His best known works are depictions of light and shadow upon the salt marshes of New England.

Heade was not a widely known artist during his lifetime, but his work attracted the notice of scholars, art historians, and collectors during the 1940s. He quickly became recognized as a major American artist. Although often considered a Hudson River School artist, some critics and scholars take exception to this categorization. Heade's works are now in major museums and collections. His paintings are occasionally discovered in unlikely places such as garage sales and flea markets.

Samuel Colman

Samuel Colman (March 4, 1832 – March 26, 1920) was an American painter, interior designer, and writer, probably best remembered for his paintings of the Hudson River.

Storm King Mountain (New York)

Storm King Mountain is a mountain on the west bank of the Hudson River just south of Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Together with Breakneck Ridge on the opposite bank of the river it forms "Wey-Gat" or Wind Gate, the picturesque northern narrows of the Hudson Highlands. Its distinctive curved ridge is the most prominent aspect of the view south down Newburgh Bay, from Newburgh, Beacon, and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. It can also be seen by southbound travelers on nearby sections of the New York State Thruway. This view was a popular subject for early artists of the Hudson River School.

While thought of as the highest point in the area, its summit reaching approximately 1,340 feet (410 m) above sea level, the eastern summit known officially as Butter Hill is actually higher, with an elevation of 1,380 feet (420 m).

The Oxbow

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, commonly known as The Oxbow, is a seminal landscape painting by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. The painting depicts a Romantic panorama of the Connecticut River Valley just after a thunderstorm. It has been interpreted as a confrontation between wilderness and civilization.

Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole (February 1, 1801 – February 11, 1848) was an English-born American painter known for his landscape and history paintings. One of the major 19th-century American painters, he is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole's work is known for its romantic portrayal of the American wilderness.

Thomas Cole Mountain

Thomas Cole Mountain is a mountain located in Greene County, New York.

The mountain named for Thomas Cole (1801–1848), an artist who lived in the area, and is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School.

Thomas Cole Mountain is part of the Blackhead range, and is the fourth highest peak of the Catskill Mountains.

Thomas Cole is flanked to the east by Black Dome (3,990 feet or 1,220 metres), and to the west by Camel's Hump (3,530 feet or 1,080 metres).

Thomas Cole Mountain stands within the watershed of Schoharie Creek, which drains into the Mohawk River, the Hudson River, and into New York Bay.

The south side of Thomas Cole drains into East Kill, and thence into Schoharie Creek.

The north side of Thomas Cole drains into Batavia Kill, and thence into Schoharie Creek.

Thomas Cole Mountain is within New York's Catskill Park.

Thomas Doughty (artist)

Thomas Doughty (July 19, 1793 – July 22, 1856) was an American artist associated with the Hudson River School.

Worthington Whittredge

Thomas Worthington Whittredge (May 22, 1820 – February 25, 1910) was an American artist of the Hudson River School. Whittredge was a highly regarded artist of his time, and was friends with several leading Hudson River School artists including Albert Bierstadt and Sanford Robinson Gifford. He traveled widely and excelled at landscape painting, many examples of which are now in major museums. He served as president of the National Academy of Design from 1874 to 1875 and was a member of the selection committees for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and the 1878 Paris Exposition, both important venues for artists of the day.

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