AMERICAN PAINTING: Hudson River Valley Artists

William Trost Richards Franconia Notch, New Hampshire
Watercolour, Gouache and Graphite on Paper, Private Collection USA

Once a battleground for the colonial war and the cradle of European civilization on American soil, Hudson River Valley had become like a pilgrimage for the artists in the nineteenth century. 

These artists received inspiration from nature and painted some of their best landscape paintings from 1825 to 1880. Every movement in art has remained attached with someplace, or artist, or a school of thoughts. But the Hudson River Valley movement is not a physical term in a sense. It is like a school of thought and vision those artists carried in their heads and hearts. The serene beauty and grand scale of beautiful landscapes had fascinated the souls of the great American painters.

Romantic Landscape with Ruined Tower
Thomas Cole Oil on Board Albany Institute
of History and Art, Albany, New York

In the years of 1820s, the people of Philadelphia and New York would see a man carrying a green bag. The bag contained painting materials and a flute. He would paint your portrait of even a signboard for his living. But his fortune shined after he got some precious commissions. The name of the young man was Thomas Cole. He introduced the native art of landscape painting in the land of America. With all the splendorous hues and shades of colours, Thomas Cole painted the landscapes with a touch of romanticism. He filled the canvases with sentimentality and freedom of expression.  Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848) was a painter who is regarded as the pioneer of the Hudson River School of paintings, one of the pioneer art movements in America

All other artists, who worked under the nomenclature of Hudson River School painted magnificent landscapes. It was their artistic attempt to make the region of Hudson River a famous one. They tried making it immortal and convert their artistic prowess into the people’s pleasure. These artists preferred their subjects only from the naturally rich surrounding areas of Hudson River Valley. There is no exaggeration in considering the paintings done by the artists of Hudson Valley School as an artistic treasure of America

Niagara Frederic Edwin Church
Oil on canvas National Gallery of ArtWashington DC

Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900) was among the group of landscape painters who comprised the Hudson River Valley School of paintings. He had joined the artistic movement led by Thomas Cole.

Frederic was known for injecting a spiritual dimension into his paintings. His style of painting was similar to his other colleagues who adored and showed the American settings in their landscapes. 

Frederic too tried portraying his emotions through the art. He did it by way of bold contrasts between light and dark areas of the romantic landscapes he painted. Compared to the other artists of the school, he had a better skill, perhaps. He loved the landscape painting in the manner Cole loved. But he had a romantic tilt. Thus in Church's paintings, we can see the blend of love, romance, and the wonderful painting technique.

The Theme: Discovery of new vistas, exploring the same for the appropriate use, and settling on this land for living further life: these were three main themes that the painters of Hudson River Valley School had adopted to depict their aesthetic skill. These aspects were the visual databank for their paintings. These landscapes artists painted the peaceful coexistence of human beings settled there and nature itself.

The Artist: Thomas Cole was born in Briton and migrated to the USA; perhaps that was starting of the era of migration of the best human brains to the USA. The brains of the world still are attracted to the USA. Thomas Cole had acquired the elementary technique of paintings from a wandering painter. First, he had learned making portraits. After portrait painting, he shifted his attention to the landscape painting; and the colourful result is before the whole world.

The Titan's Goblet  Thomas Cole
Oil on Canvas, Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York City

Thomas Cole's vivid landscape paintings had embedded allegory in them and the artists tried infusing intellect ideas in his paintings. His romantic view, too, had found an outlet in his paintings. The innovative technique of applying the colours for exotic landscapes of Hudson River scenes, Thomas Cole had produced on his canvas the subtle forms of the river bed, the trees standing on the banks, and the changing moods and colours of the sky. These were the unique qualities that make Cole's paintings a distinguished treasure of art. 

Hudson River Valley Artists:  Thomas Cole and his allegorical paintings were regarded with artistic esteem. There was a group of clients who preferred Cole’s landscapes to other paintings. The reason was that these landscapes were simply identifiable. Among them, the Hudson Valley Paintings were well received, as these paintings were dramatically different from other artworks available in the contemporary market. 

Though remained a bit uneasy over his customers’ narrowed choices, Thomas Cole continuously tried improvising his technique of painting the landscapes. One important thing we witness in Thomas Cole's vivid landscape paintings is the embedded allegory in them. He tried infusing intellect ideas in his paintings, too. In addition to this, his romantic view also had found an outlet in his paintings of Hudson Valley.

Lake Squam from Red Hill     William Trost Richards
Watercolour on Graphite   Private Collection, USA
William Trost Richards 
America has given many versatile painters to the world of art. William Trost Richards who died in 1905 is one of the leading painters of America. He was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He concentrated his skill on watercolours. In his days the painters known as Hudson Valley painters were famous for their paintings. Their art was tilted on the side of romanticism. William Trost Richards carved out a different path and concentrated on reality.

The above watercolour paintings ‘Lake Squam from Red Hill' is one of the best paintings painted by him. The painting, a landscape in watercolour, is painted in the year 1874 and is 22.5 x 34.5 cm in size. On just looking at the painting we can arrive at that the foreground is very much detailed in comparison to the object in distance.

Here in this watercolour painting, the artist William Trost Richards has demonstrated his skill of using the effect of light on the mountains, river and sloppy land. The centre point would be somewhere in the pond like a water-body that holds the most attractive portion of the painting.

The Art: In this watercolour painting, the focal point is the tiny man visible standing on the curve of the path. Around him is the vast greenery and above his head the beauty of mountains and the clouds. As the distance decreases the colour theme turns from light to dark making the object more and more identifiable. The valley of mountains is filled with artistic prowess and sunlight. The sun must be above the sky lighting whole of the scene. The vibrancy of watercolours William Trost Richards had used more light to the fore and backgrounds. On seeing the painting at once, one would not miss feeling himself or herself in the midst of the valley that is painted here. Such is the sense of immediacy the artists has embedded in the painting through his skill of using the colours and creating a marvellous combination. 

Lake George  John Frederick Kensett 
Oil on canvas Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City

John Frederick Kensett

THEME: Landscape paintings by the artists of Hudson Valley School are an artistic treasure for American cultural history and the movement of the art of painting.

The Art: The necessary material a landscape painter comprises mainly two things: the precision in work and the pleasurable depiction of the perspective. However, the most important aspect of making an artwork memorable is the intuition the artist feels while standing before a blank canvas. When the wide landscape is opened before the artist’s eyes, the painter follows the inner desire to paint a scene; he or she decides to create a harmonious relationship between the vast canvass of Mother Earth and the palate carrying with bright and cool colours in hand.

Through the combinations of the hues and tones of the colours, and by applying varying degrees of the brush strokes, the artists' endeavours to create a parallel world on a blank canvas. After applying all that the artist has at his or her disposal, what figures out is the consequence of the force of imagination and the degree of connection of heart the painter could have maintained with painting. The above painting Lake George -by John Frederick Kensett is painted under the school known as Hudson River School of Painting. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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