Winter Sleigh Ride is one of Joseph Hidley’s rare landscapes painted from life. It shows a winter landscape with a lake and stream, typical of the landscape of the Rensselaer Plateau region near Hidley’s hometown of Poestenkill, New York. It also depicts the clear-cutting of trees for the production of charcoal, which rapidly changed the appearance of the landscape throughout the Plateau during the second half of the nineteenth century. The production of charcoal fueled the numerous iron foundries of Troy and Albany, and it simultaneously contributed to land erosion. The environmental impact of clear-cutting first came to widespread attention in American in 1864 with the publication of George Perkins Marsh’s book, Man and Nature. Marsh’s book led the early preservation movement that resulted years later in the establishment of the National Park system and the Adirondack Park of New York State.
As a carpenter and self-taught artist living and working in Rensselaer County, Hidley painted mostly decorative scenes and wall art using print sources that showed picturesque scenery in America and Europe. He also painted fantasy scenes of mill ponds and still lifes of fruit and flowers. Hidley completed few landscape paintings from life. There are only eight documented townscapes that depict Poestenkill, Glass Lake, and West Sand Lake, New York. He painted a few others scenes from life, including Winter Sleigh Ride.