The Making of the Hudson River School

The Making of the Hudson River School


This exhibition originated from the frequently asked question “what is the Hudson River School?” We can begin with three basic facts.

First, the Hudson River School refers to American landscape painting created between 1825 and roughly 1875.

Second, the Hudson River School was not an actual school, but a group of artists who mainly lived and painted in the Hudson River valley of New York. They frequently knew one another, went on sketching trips together, and exhibited their paintings side by side at exhibitions and galleries.

Third, the name Hudson River School was not used by the artists themselves. The name came into general use in the 1870s, at a time when their style was losing popularity.

In addition to these three statements, this exhibition reveals that much more went into the making of the Hudson River School, such as the influence of European traditions and cultural movements, as well as America’s natural environment and commercial spirit. The Hudson River School also emerged alongside the new medium of photography, the new science of geology, and new technologies that transformed travel and inaugurated an industrial revolution. The Hudson River School ultimately helped shape an American identity.

The Popular Appeal of Landscape

Several factors converged during the nineteenth century to broaden the appeal of landscape art. Most noticeable among them was urban growth, which increasingly separated Americans from rural scenes and activities, fostering a nostalgic desire to reconnect with nature. At the same time, Americans also had more opportunities to see and own landscape art.

Even though few Americans could afford paintings by the Hudson River School’s most acclaimed artists, many could purchase landscapes from lesser-known painters, or they could purchase painted copies or prints. Several French artists including Victor de Grailly and Hippolyte-Louis Garnier contributed to the American market for landscapes by painting views derived from print sources, such as William Bartlett’s American Scenery, or fellow Frenchman Jacques-Gérard Milbert’s Itinéraires Pittoresque du Fleuve Hudson. Their works were shipped to America and sold in several cities at public auctions.

Organizations like the National Academy of Design (1825–present) and the American Art-Union (1840-1851) regularly exhibited landscape paintings, as did numerous private galleries. The American Art-Union also auctioned original works of art and distributed prints through subscription, including Asher B. Durand’s Dover Plains, issued in 1850, and John F. Kensett’s Mount Washington. From the Valley of Conway, issued in 1851. In the annual report for 1844, Charles F. Briggs of the Art-Union’s Committee of Management verbalized the benefit derived from landscape art: “To the inhabitants of cities, as nearly all of the subscribers to the Art-Union are, a painted landscape is almost essential to preserve a healthy tone to the spirits, lest they forget in the wilderness of bricks which surrounds them the pure delights of nature and a country life . . . Those who cannot afford a seat in the country to refresh their wearied spirits, may at least have a country seat in their parlors.”

Landscape art, whether paintings, prints, or photographs, became a popular commodity in nineteenth-century America that strengthened the national art market and stimulated scenic tourism. Few Americans went untouched by its influence.

View Near Anthony’s Nose

William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854)

Engraved by H. Adlard

Published in American Scenery, Part 7, by Nathaniel P. Willis

Steel engraving on paper, c. 1840

Albany Institute of History & Art Library

Entrance to the Highlands on the Hudson

Hippolyte-Louis Garnier (1802-1855) | c. 1845

Medium: Oil on canvas

Credit: Gift of Albert B. Roberts

Entrance to the Highlands on the Hudson is based on a work by William H. Bartlett, an artist who traveled through the United States in 1836, recording America’s scenery in sepia watercolor. Upon returning to England, Bartlett’s views were engraved on steel plates and printed for Nathaniel P. Willis’s work, American Scenery, issued in parts from 1837 through 1839, and published as a complete volume containing 119 engravings in 1840. American Scenery contained several views of the Hudson RiverValley, including this scene that depicts the southern entrance to the Hudson Highlands, just north of Peekskill. The viewer is looking north from the western bank of the river; the dark mountain that dominates the right middle ground is Anthony’s Nose.

Numerous artists—professionals and amateurs—copied Bartlett’s views. Hippolyte-Louis Garnier, a French painter, miniaturist, and lithographer, who worked in Paris, painted this version using a limited palette. He added a smartly dressed couple at left, not present in Bartlett’s version, who seem better suited for promenading through the Tuileries in Paris than the HudsonValley’s rugged terrain. Garnier was almost certainly painting his American landscapes for sale in America since several auction catalogues from the mid-nineteenth century list several paintings of American scenes by Garnier and other European artists.

Up the Hudson

c. 1872

Printer: Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives

Publisher / Location: Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives | New York City

Medium: Hand-colored lithograph

Dimensions: 8 3/8 H x 12 1/2 W (image); 10 1/8 H x 14 1/8 W (sheet)

Credit: Gift of Ledyard Cogswell, Jr.

Anthony’s Nose

Edmund C. Coates (1816–1871) | c. 1840–1857

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 17 ¾ H x 24 1/8 W

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase

An Old Man's Reminiscences

Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) | 1845

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 39 5/8 H x 58 1/4 W

Credit: Gift of the Albany Gallery of Fine Arts

Inspired by the poem “Deserted Village” (1770), by Englishman Oliver Goldsmith, An Old Man’s Reminiscences pictures a nostalgic reverie, a moment of reflective contemplation for the aged man seated in the shade at left. Asher B. Durand originally titled his painting Landscape Composition: “An Old Man’s Reminiscences, indicating the scene was not based on an actual landscape, but was composed.

Durand painted few allegorical or narrative works, unlike his mentor Thomas Cole, who preferred painting imagined landscapes full of symbolism. Durand, instead, paid close attention to nature and generally painted what he saw. In the mid-1850s, he published a series of “Letters on Landscape Painting” in the art journal The Crayon, which clearly delineated his ideas and method of painting from nature. Nevertheless, An Old Man’s Reminiscences was an important work, and the citizens of Albany raised funds to acquire the painting in 1848 for the Albany Gallery of Fine Arts, a predecessor of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

An Old Man’s Reminiscences

Asher B. Durant (1796–1886)

Printed by Louis Prang and Company, Boston, MA

Gift of Miss Evelyn Newman, 1945.66

Landscape Based on An Old Man’s Reminiscences

James M. Hart (1828–1901)

Oil on canvas, c. 1850

Courtesy of Douglas L Cohn, DVM

View of Hudson River at West Point

Thomas Chambers (1808-1869) | c. 1855

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 22 H x 30 W

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase

Little is known about the artist Thomas Chambers, yet hundreds of paintings signed by or attributed to him survive. His use of bold colors and stylized rhythmic patterns is unmistakable.

Born is Whitby, England, in 1808, Chambers was raised in a working-class family in a seaport town. His older brother, George, became a noted painter of marine scenes and moved to London in 1825. In 1832, Chambers immigrated to the United States. He first settled in New Orleans, where he listed himself as a “painter” in the 1833–1834 city directory. Between 1834 and 1840, Chambers was living in New York City and working as a “landscape painter” and “marine painter.” New York, however, did not keep Chambers for long. Based on recent research, we learn that he moved next to Baltimore, then Boston, and between 1852 and 1857, he resided in Albany. Chambers eventually returned to New York City where he remained until about 1865, at which time he returned to England, where he died in 1869.

View of the Hudson River at West Point is based on a print (see below) by the French naturalist, engineer, and artist Jacques-Gérard Milbert, included in his published portfolio Itinéraire Pittoresque du Fleuve Hudson et des Parties Latérales (1828–1829). Like other artists painting for the aspiring middle-class market, Chambers relied heavily on published prints as sources for his landscapes and marine views.

General View of the Military School—West Point

Jacques-Gérard Milbert (1766-1840) | 1828–1829

Printer: Lithographed by Isidore-Laurent Deroy

Publisher / Location: Published for Itinéraires Pittoresque du Fleuve Hudson et des Parties Latérales

Medium: Lithograph on paper

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase

The French naturalist, engineer, and artist, Jacques-Gérard Milbert, traveled through the United States between 1815 and 1823, as part of a scientific research mission to document the geology, flora, and fauna of the nation. He collected more than 7,000 natural history specimens for the Natural History Museum in Paris, and also sent the first living American buffalo to France. While in the United States he also worked as an engineer with the Erie Canal Commission, a task that afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the Hudson River and Mohawk valleys, where he made numerous drawings of the topography and landscape.

After he returned to Paris, Milbert’s drawings were given to several lithographers, who transferred his views onto lithographic printing stones. Between 1828 and 1829, fifty-four prints were issued in thirteen installments, each installment containing three to five prints. The complete portfolio, titled Itinéraire Pittoresque du Fleuve Hudson et des Parties Latérales, was an impressive collection of North American views. The prints were widely distributed, both in Europe and the United States, and decorative painters and artists like Thomas Chambers frequently copied them.

Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) | 1859

Medium: Pencil with white gouache on wove paper

Dimensions: 7 H x 9 7/8 W

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Florence Cole Vincent

Marche di Bravura, the Andes

Composed by George William Warren

Published by William A. Pond & Co., New York City

Lithograph on paper, 1863

Gift of Thomas Nelson, LIB 2011.227

Bulletin of the American Art-Union

Printed by John F. Troy, NY

Letterpress on paper, June 1851

Albany Institute of History & Art Library

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