Hudson River School of Art

The First Coherent School of American Art

Founded by Thomas Cole in 1825

Landscape Painters Welcome

The school only admitted landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was mostly 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 the White Mountains. They began to expand to other locations and countries later on.

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Hudson River School paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration, and settlement. The paintings also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully. Hudson River School artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was an ineffable manifestation of God, though the artists varied in the depth of their religious conviction.

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.

The Artists

Many great and prolific artists spawned from this school like Worthington Whittredge, Charles Baker, Albert Bierstadt, and founder Thomas Cole's prized pupil, Frederic Edwin Church. Artists came from all over the world to study at this school, gaining popularity and money, their pieces living in the public eye for centuries after. Multiple pieces by various artists at the Hudson River School still reside in museums and galleries today.

Many of the artists like Kensett, Gifford, and Church were among the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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The Fall of the Hudson River School

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the Hudson River School fell into disfavor. Realistic landscape painting was increasingly viewed as old fashioned and quaint with the emergence of new styles (like Impressionism) coming out of Europe. By the time Church died, along with his greatest rival and likewise famous artist, Albert Bierstadt, in 1900, the Hudson School had been virtually forgotten about. Many of the once great and admired artists died in poverty. Its fall from grace began about the time of the Centennial. After the Civil War, the aesthetic orientation of the United States shifted from Great Britain, the mother culture, to the Continent, especially France.