Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hudson River School of Painting

Albert Bierstadt
Oil on Canvas
75 x 109 cm
Landscape paintings by artists associated with the Hudson River School are particularly important because of the School’s associations with the American conservation movement.

Before the 1820s, American artists painted portraits and documentary works depicting important historical events. A few painters tried landscape painting. AfterThomas Cole arrived on the scene in 1825, views of natural wonder became sought after by art collectors. Cole and the artists who followed his example became known as the Hudson River School. They celebrated nature above all man-made things. Their landscapes sought to recreate the majesty of the natural world and to inspire admiration for its beauty.

After Cole’s death in 1848, Asher Durand, an engraver and portrait painter, became the most prominent painter of the Hudson River School. In a series of essays entitled Letters on Landscape Painting, Durand set out his idea that landscape painters should seek to depict nature exactly and not alter it in any way.

As artists celebrated nature on canvas, city dwellers who hung landscape paintings on their walls came to believe that the natural scenes depicted were worthy of preservation. At the same time, writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson revered nature on the page.

This confluence of artistic, literary and political attention to America’s scenic beauty eventually laid the foundation for the creation of the first national parks and helped establish conservation as a national value.

In the movement’s later stages, artists such as Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt expanded the ideals of the Hudson River School painters. They painted enormous canvases of dramatic natural scenes in the American West and around the world.

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