The term “Hudson River School” is in wide circulation. It references a group of landscape artists who painted the scenery in and around the Hudson Valley in the years from about the 1825 through 1875, and established themselves as America’s first native school of art. Their artistic careers correspond to an historic moment when New York City was emerging as the economic capital of the country and its center for the arts. Although there have been many books and exhibitions about the Hudson River School, this focused exhibition and its accompanying publication promises a fresh perspective integrating the fine and popular arts of the time.
The curator has taken a two-pronged strategy to the exhibit. First, the focus is shifted away from New York City to the homes of the artists and their patrons up the river- maps their country residences, and links them with their local scenery. Second, Home on the Hudson: Women and Men Painting Landscapes, 1825-1875, expands the canon to include women such as Eliza Pratt Greatorex, Julie Hart Beers, and Julia McEntee Dillon, who are generally excluded from consideration.
The objects and materials featured in the exhibition are specimens of work these artists did in the vicinity of their residences. Included are watercolors, prints, and photographs to complement the spectacular and in some cases little seen oil paintings. Hanging side by side, they demonstrate the kinship that existed among the artists. Even when they shared a subject, however, we discover that the pictures have different looks, as each artist gave their own individual stamp of style and approach.
Home on the Hudson includes a map of the river that pinpoints where the artists lived and the motifs they painted from New York City to Albany. A display case and a website offer a look at illustrated guide books that instructed painters in the importance of particular sites, along with 19th century ferry and train schedules. Prints add another important dimension to the exhibit. They were less expensive and therefore more commonly owned by 19th century Americans: art for the middle class. Selections are included from The Hudson River Portfolio which consists of twenty hand-colored aquatints. Such portfolios established the canon of places that the painters followed in their work. The exhibit also features Fanny Palmer, the woman who made more prints for Currier & Ives than any other artist in the firm.
“Home on the Hudson” refers not only to the dwellings of the artists but also to the domestic settings where these landscapes hung and how the paintings functioned within interior spaces. A folding screen is decorated with a view of the river at Albany, a variation on the theme of landscape pictures as decorative objects. Painted china and a range of domestic objects that carried Hudson River imagery from fine arts into the domestic arts are also showcased.
Most exhibitions of Hudson River art are held far from the landscape that gave rise to it, and therefore lack specificity of place. Situated directly on the river just opposite West Point, a frequently painted view, Boscobel gives visitors the opportunity to move from the natural belvedere on the grounds into the galleries to see the scenery portrayed. This is an important opportunity for viewers to compare and contrast physical motif with paintings and prints inspired by the landscape.
The run of Home on the Hudson is perfectly timed to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery – while sailing in his ship the Half Moon – of the river that bears his name. Some of the material in the exhibition will manifest this historical event.
The Exhibition Gallery at Boscobel, over 1200 square feet in size, will be open during regular Boscobel hours, Wednesday – Monday, 9:30am-5pm. Admission for House tour, Grounds and the Exhibition Gallery is $16 for adults- $12 for seniors- and $7 for children. Admission for the Grounds and the Exhibition Gallery only is $12, children (6-14) $5. From June 16-September 6 the Exhibition Gallery will remain open until a half hour before curtain time to accommodate attendees at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival performances, at a special fee of $5.
Home On The Hudson: Women and Men Painting Landscapes 1825-1875 runs from June 6 through Sept. 7, 2009 at Boscobel House & Gardens, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison, NY. For more information please call 845-265-3638 or visit www.boscobel.org.
Home on the Hudson: Women and Men Painting Landscapes, 1825-1875 has been organized by guest curator Katherine Manthorne, Prof. of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York, and students from her Art History Seminar.
Photo: Julie Hart Beers, Hudson River at Croton Point, 1869- Oil on canvas-
Courtesy Hawthorne Fine Art, Collection of Nick Bulzacchelli