Tag Archives: Hudson River School

New Exhibit: African-American Landscape PainterRobert Duncanson

On May 1, 2011, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens Robert S. Duncanson: The Spiritual Striving of the Freedman’s Son, the first exhibition featuring the work of the nineteenth-century African-American landscape painter Robert S. Duncanson in many years, and, the first exhibition of his work to appear on the east coast, even in his lifetime. The exhibition will bring the work of this Ohio artist to the home of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School and major influence on Duncanson.

Robert S. Duncanson was the first American landscape painter of African descent to gain international renown and occupies a critical position in the history of art. Widely celebrated for his landscape paintings, Duncanson began his career in the family trades of house painting and carpentry, before teaching himself art by painting portraits, genre scenes, and still-lifes. His success is remarkable as a “free colored person” who descended from generations of mulatto tradesmen, to graduate from skilled trades and participate in the Anglo-American art community.

Duncanson’s turn to landscape as his subject was influenced by Thomas Cole in the late 1840s. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, then the largest and most prosperous city in the western United States, Duncanson became the cornerstone of the Ohio River Valley regional landscape painting school and, according to the Cincinnati Gazette declared that he &#8220enjoyed the enviable reputation of being the best landscape painter in the West.&#8221

Duncanson achieved his artistic success despite the oppressive restrictions that Anglo-American society placed on him as an African-American, a “free colored person.” His paintings earned him international attention with especially high esteem bestowed on him by the art press in Canada and England. Canadians acknowledged Duncanson’s seminal role as “one of the earliest of our professional cultivators of the fine arts.” And, the critics of the London Art Journal praised him as possessing “the skill of a master,” whose paintings “may compete with any of the modern British school.”

Duncanson adopted the style and metaphors of east coast landscape painting that depicted the “natural paradise” of the New World as a romantic symbol for the European settlers’ perceived covenant with God. But in so doing he also appropriated the art of landscape painting&#8211both in subject and content&#8211for African-American culture. In some of his paintings he subtly expressed the perspective of an African-American through his works.

A careful reading of his landscapes, reveals how Duncanson expressed his particular perspective. The grandson of a freedman, Duncanson’s artistic ambitions and the content of his paintings epitomize W.E.B. Du Bois’ statement that “the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s son is the travail of souls.”

Robert S. Duncanson: The Spiritual Striving of the Freeman’s Son is curated by Joseph D. Ketner. Ketner is the Henry and Lois Foster Chair in Contemporary Art and the Distinguished Curator-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston. He is the author of a definitive book about the artist, The Emergence of the African-American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson 1821-1872. The catalogue for this exhibition will contain an essay by Ketner including new information on the artist and color illustrations of many new paintings discovered over the past fifteen years.

“We are honored to have Joseph Ketner, the authority on this fascinating Hudson River School artist, curate our 8th annual exhibition,” said Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole Site. “The artist’s work, which can be found in the permanent collections of major museums across the country, stands alone in its beauty. What makes this exhibition even more powerful, however, is the fact that Duncanson achieved his success under the oppressive conditions of being a ‘free colored person’ in antebellum United States.”

Robert S. Duncanson: The Spiritual Striving of the Freeman’s Son is on-view through October 30, 2011.

This exhibition is the 8th annual presentation of 19th Century landscape paintings at the Thomas Cole site, fostering a discussion of the influence of Thomas Cole on American culture through a generation of artists known as the Hudson River School. The Thomas Cole Historic Site is located at 218 Spring Street in Catskill, New York. For information call 518-943-7465 or visit www.thomascole.org.

Illustration: Robert S. Duncanson’s Times Temple, 1854. 34 x 59 inches, Oil on Canvas. Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Major Hudson River School Exhibition Opens

Questroyal Fine Art in New York City has announced the beginning of its eleventh annual Hudson River School exhibition, An Untamed Nation. The show, which opened to the public March 10, features examples by America’s most beloved landscape artists of the nineteenth-century. Highlights include a sublime landscape by the 19th-century forefather of American art, Thomas Doughty, a marine masterpiece by Luminist painter Francis Augustus Silva, a vibrant Hudson River scene by Jasper Francis Cropsey, and a dramatic composition by George Inness.

Questroyal owner Louis M. Salerno said of the paintings: “After months of searching, I am happy to say that I have gathered a unique and high-quality group of paintings for this year’s exhibition. I have specialized in finding and offering Hudson River School works for over two decades now and have never displayed such a distinguished collection of nineteenth-century art as what we have for this year’s show. We have created one of our strongest Hudson River School catalogues to accompany the exhibition with thirty-two illustrations, but plan to display well over seventy-five works.”

An Untamed Nation will be on display until April2,2011. Questroyal is willing to offer a complimentary exhibition catalogue to any interested parties. Please contact the gallery via email (gallery@questroyalfineart.com) or phone (212-744-3586) to request your copy.

Admission to the exhibition is free of charge. The gallery is located at 903 Park Avenue (at 79th Street), Suite 3A & B and is open Monday–Friday from 10–6 PM and Saturday, 10–5PM.

Visit their website for more information.

Hudson River School Focus of Major Travelling Exhibit

Forty-five paintings from the collection of the New-York Historical Society will tour the United States in 2011 and 2012 in the major traveling exhibition Nature and the American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School. Though very seldom loaned, these iconic works of 19th-century landscape painting will now be circulated to four museums throughout the country as part of the Historical Society’s traveling exhibitions program Sharing a National Treasure.

Nature and the American Vision
will allow audiences to enjoy and study superb examples of the Historical Society’s collection of Hudson River School paintings while the galleries of the N-YHS are closed for a transformative $65 million renovation project.

The Historical Society’s rich holdings of American art date back to the second half of the 19th century, when the museum acquired, through generous donation, the extensive painting collections formed by pioneering New York art patron Luman Reed (1787-1836). By 1944, the Society was also home to the extraordinary collection of Hudson River School art amassed by Robert Leighton Stuart (1806-1882), another of New York’s prominent 19th-century art patrons. Works once belonging to these pioneering American collectors form the core of the traveling exhibition.

&#8220Our mission for the Sharing a National Treasure program is to ensure that audiences throughout the United States have access to the great artworks and priceless artifacts of the New-York Historical Society, New York City’s first museum and one of the nation’s oldest collecting institutions,&#8221 stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. &#8220Nowhere is this mission more vital than in the traveling exhibition Nature and the American Vision. This tour keeps in public view some of the most important works of Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, George Inness and many others: the first artists to have created a consciously American tradition of painting.&#8221

The Hudson River School emerged during the second quarter of the 19th century in New York City. There, a loosely knit group of artists and writers forged the first self-consciously American landscape vision and literary voice. That American vision—still widely influential today—was grounded in a view of the natural world as a source of spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity. This vision was first expressed through the magnificent scenery of the Hudson River Valley region, including the Catskills, which was accessible to writers, artists and sightseers via traffic on the great river that gave the school its name.

The exhibition tells this story in four thematic sections. Within these broad groupings, the paintings show how American artists embodied powerful ideas about nature, culture and history—including the belief that a special providence was manifest to Americans in the continent’s sublime landscape.

The American Grand Tour
features paintings of the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountain regions celebrated for their scenic beauty and historic sites, as well as views of Lake George, Niagara Falls and the New England countryside. These were the destinations that most powerfully attracted both artists and travelers. The American Grand Tour also includes paintings that memorialize the Hudson River itself as the gateway to the touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.

American Artists A-Field
includes works by Hudson River School artists who after 1850 sought inspiration further from home. The paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Martin Johnson Heade show how these globe-trotting painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and thrilled audiences with images of the landscape wonders of such far-flung places as the American frontier, Yosemite Valley and South America.

Dreams of Arcadia: Americans in Italy features wonderful paintings by Cole, Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford, and others celebrating Italy as the center of the Old World and the principal destination for Americans on the European Grand Tour. Viewed as the storehouse of Western culture, Italy was a living laboratory of the past, with its cities, galleries, and countryside offering a survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity, as well as a striking contrast to the wilderness vistas of North America portrayed by these same artists.

In the final section of the exhibition, Grand Landscape Narratives, all of these ideas converge in Thomas Cole’s five-painting series The Course of Empire (c. 1834-36), imagining the rise of a great civilization from an unspoiled landscape, and the ultimate decay of that civilization into ruins scattered in the same wilderness. These celebrated paintings explore the tension between Americans’ deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress, recapitulating the larger story told in Nature and the American Vision.

Nature and the American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School will travel to The Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX (February 26- June 19, 2011)- the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA (July 30 – November 6, 2011)- the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC (November 17, 2011 – April 1, 2012)- and the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR (May – August, 2012). The paintings will then return to their renovated home.

The ideas and beliefs explored in the exhibition are also investigated in an award-winning 224-page catalogue by Linda S. Ferber: The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, published by Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc. Featuring 150 full-color illustrations of works from the acclaimed collection of the New-York Historical Society, the catalogue places the splendid paintings in the traveling exhibition into a broad historical and cultural context. Dr. Ferber received the 2010 Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogues of Distinction in the Arts from the New York State Historical Association for the volume.

The Masculinity of Antebellum Landscape Painters

As one who hobnobbed in elite cultural circles but also worked with his hands and roughed it in the woods and mountains, was the antebellum American landscape painter to be a gentleman or an undomesticated wild man, a James Fenimore Cooper or a Davy Crockett? Join Dr. Sarah Burns, Ruth N. Halls Professor of Fine Arts at Indiana University, as she examines the ways in which Hudson River School painters attempted to reckon with the problematic aura of femininity that clung to the image of the artist at that time. The lecture, &#8220Outdoor Men: Manliness, Masculinity, and the Antebellum Landscape Painter,&#8221 will be held on Sunday October 10 is at 2pm at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill. Admission is $7 per person, or $5 for members, and is first-come-first-served.

Illustration: Asher Durand, Kindred Spirits (detail), 1849. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Seeing the Hudson: An Exhibition of Photographs and Paintings

As part of the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sail of discovery, the Alan Klotz Gallery, (511 West 25th Street, NYC) is presenting Seeing the Hudson, a major exhibition of paintings and photographs, which show the river over a period of more than 200 years, from its source in the Adirondacks, to its mouth, 315 miles away in Upper New York Bay. The exhibition will take place September 17th &#8211 October 31st, 2009 with an opening reception on Thursday, September 17, from 6 to 8 pm.

The show begins with work by the 19th century painters of the Hudson River School, arguably the first American art movement, and continues through more contemporary painting and photographs. The exhibition demonstrates the variety of faces that the River presents and the selected works reflect the vision of the individual artists.

In general, 19th century Hudson River School painters saw the River as an almost holy, pristine, primeval landscape, where settlers (if present at all) lived in harmony with an all powerful “Nature“. Photographers (partially due to the nature of their medium) were more interested in the real than the ideal. To them, the profound effect of the “hand of man“ on the environment is what gave proof of man’s dominion over Nature, and was itself a source of pride for a developing nation. Of course, in more recent times, man’s impact on the environment has engendered a more negative judgment. Irony and severe criticism have become part of the view as a spur to environmental action by those who love the River and want to protect, defend, and restore it. All these motivations find form in the exhibition.

Photo: Joseph Antonio Hekking’s (1830 &#8211 1903) Hudson River Valley

150 Thomas Cole Images Now Online

The Thomas Cole Historic Site is substantially increasing its online presence with the launch of a new interactive website where visitors can see Thomas Cole’s paintings in a new way, enabling a greatly enhanced understanding of the artist and his work.

The most ambitious feature of the new website is the learning portal. Five years in the making, it offers 150 of Thomas Cole’s best-known artworks all in one place. Written by some of the top scholars in the field of American art, it gives you the experience of seeing Cole’s artwork with a team of experts by your side.

High-resolution digital technology reveals details that are not evident in printed reproductions, and the visitor can zoom in closer to the painted surface than would be permissible in a museum. The database of images will continue to grow, eventually becoming as complete a resource as possible for Cole’s artistic output.

Photo: Autumn in the Catskills by Thomas Cole. Oil on wood, 1827.

Thomas Cole Historic Site Gets $1 Million Bequest


The Thomas Cole Historic Site has announced that it has received a bequest of $1,000,000 from the estate of Raymond Beecher (1917–2008), a guiding light in the preservation of the Thomas Cole Site as well as countless other historic properties in the area. The newly established Raymond and Catharine Beecher Memorial Fund will be used for the maintenance of the buildings and grounds of Cedar Grove, the 19th- century home of Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole.

The bequest is restricted to funding the maintenance of the building and grounds of the Thomas Cole Historic Site, and only a portion of the interest may be used each year so that the principal will endure. Were it not for Raymond Beecher, who passed away in October at the age of 91, there might not be a Cedar Grove today. When the property was up for sale and possibly headed for demolition, Beecher put up his own money to buy the property and begin the restoration process. According to Thomas Cole Historic Site Executive Director Elizabeth Jacks, “It might not have happened without him. He led the charge. So we are delighted that his legacy lives on in a way that helps maintain the site he loved so much.”

Raymond Beecher was a soldier, educator, historian, writer, philanthropist, and public servant. He was the Chairman of the Greene County Historical Society and the Greene County Historian for many years. He was a leader in the establishment of the Vedder Library – a collection of important pieces of Greene County history. Beecher was a World War II veteran serving in both Europe and the Pacific. He wrote several books and for many years wrote a weekly column in local newspapers. He was declared a “Greene County Treasure” by the County Legislature in 2007.

Cedar Grove is the historic name for the Thomas Cole Historic Site, a non-profit organization that preserves and interprets the site where the artist Thomas Cole lived, worked, was married, and where he died at the age of 47. Today the site consists of the Federal style brick home (c. 1815) in which Thomas Cole resided with his family, as well as the artist’s original studio building, on five landscaped acres with a magnificent view of the Catskill Mountains.

Photo: Raymond Beecher in the grounds of his beloved Cedar Grove. Photo Richard Philp.

Home On The Hudson:Women and Men Painting Landscapes 1825-1875

Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, New York (www.boscobel.org) has opened a new exhibition, Home on the Hudson: Women and Men Painting Landscapes, 1825-1875. This is the second major exhibition in the new state-of-the-art exhibition gallery on the lower floor of the historic Boscobel House. The exhibit, open to all visitors to Boscobel, will be on display through September 7.

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 &#8211 while sailing in his ship the Half Moon &#8211 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