Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Hudson River School of Art

by Kathleen L. Maher

Anyone who knows me, knows I love my home state of New York. I love to explore its history and often-untold stories, and share my love for all things New York. In addition to being a lover of history, I am also an erstwhile artist, and for me, to have all of these elements come together is a rare and special treat. I hope you enjoy this peek into a special time and place in American history.
Thomas Cole

In the early to mid 1800's, there arose a group of artists that loved to paint in the Hudson River valley, the Catskill Mountains, and the Adirondacks, to capture its grand landscapes and unspoiled beauty. Thomas Cole is considered to be the father of this realistic style marked by European romanticism and luminism, an emphasis on lighting effects.  It is a celebration of the wild, rugged, and picturesque, and an attempt to capture on canvas the grand scale of sweeping scenery.

The Hudson River school wasn't an actual place of study in the literal sense of a school, but rather an association of like-minded artists in one region at one place in time. The second generation of artists influenced by this school took their canvas and bushes to other places, such as the American West.

Albert Bierstadt
Albert Bierstadt is one such artist who employed the aesthetics of this movement at the perfect point in time to capture the American West and translate it to those back east in a way that approximated its larger than life majesty. Bierstadt traveled with surveyors and advance parties during the Westward Expansion of our country, in the 1850's at the dawn of rail travel and before photography had its full capacity. 

His art was so captivating it helped persuade the American people of the value of acquiring and settling these lands.His detailed paintings inhabited canvases often twelve or more feet across and six to eight feet tall, inviting the viewer to step into a scene that they could almost touch and taste and feel. How does one translate the size of a redwood tree to one who has never seen its spectacle? Or the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, the panorama of the Great Plains? Bierstadt reproduces in almost photo realism the tiniest detail such as trout in a translucent pool, the individual leaves on a tree, and the shimmer of sunlight on water, all the while immersing the spectator in a scope that overwhelms the senses. 

Outlet at :Lake Tahoe by Albert Bierstadt

Another of the important Hudson River School artists includes Frederic Edwin Church. Church was born into privilege as the son of a jeweler and banker. His father's largess convinced the acclaimed aforementioned Hudson School founder Thomas Cole to take Frederic into his tutelage, and soon the student proved himself an artist of international merit. Church painted not only the New York and New England landscapes, but went on to accompany naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt to South America. He is known for the scope and exactitude of his landscapes. Later, he would travel to Greenland to paint great icebergs in the North Atlantic, and later still, the Holy Land and the ancient world.
Niagara Falls by Frederic Edwin Church 

I can almost feel the mist rising off the falls, smell the fresh air gusting up from the plunge, hear the roar of the tons of water pounding the river below. The play of light in the hazy sky and through the translucent water, the artist's depiction of sun refracting in the water droplets suspended in the atmosphere almost defies human capacity. It would be many years before a camera could approximate the same affects. 

The Catskills by Asher B Durand
The last artist in my spotlight is Asher Brown Durand. In addition to being an engraver and portrait artist, Durand earned a stellar reputation as a naturalist landscape artist, depicting "masterpieces of organic verisimilitude." Taking great influence from the European masters, Durand also received enlightenment from the plein air experience, leaving the controlled production of the studio to capture landscape art as it really was, painting in nature. His dark to light dynamic creates a drama that draws the eye to focal points and shimmering points of interest in his compositions. Up close, you can see the moss growing on old roots and lichen clinging to tree trunks. No detail is lost. 

In my new novella releasing October 1 with Barbour Books' collection Lessons on Love, a Hudson River town is my setting during this approximate time period when these artists roamed the foothills and valleys and mountains of undeveloped New York State. "Something Old, Something New" tells the story of Gilda Jacobs, a young Jewish schoolmistress who must partner with Joshua Blake, a protege of New York revivalist Charles Grandison Finney, to meet the Christian curriculum requirements of the largely Dutch population of the town. It was a joy to imagine the lush natural beauty of Gilda and Joshua's world through the lens of these New York State artists. 

Kathleen L. Maher’s first crush was Peter Rabbit, and she’s loved conflicted heroes ever since. She has two novellas in BARBOUR BOOKS' collections: Victorian Christmas Brides and Lessons on Love. Winner 2012 ACFW Genesis Award. Author of Sons of the Shenandoah Series: The Abolitionist's Daughter and The Chaplain's Daughter.
Kathleen and her husband live in an old farmhouse in upstate NY with their children and a small menagerie.

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  1. Those pictures are beautiful! You're right, they're almost like a photograph. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Connie. A museum near me in Corning NY has a Bierstadt painting that takes up one whole wall. It’s an experience just to stand before it and feel like you’re stepping into another world.

  2. So LOVE this entry, Kathleen as I appreciate the Hudson River School too. Thank you for presenting this; their work is so uplifting. Also, can't wait for "Lessons on Love" to arrive. You blend two things I most enjoy--art & romance!

    1. Thank you Pat. I know you appreciate New York history as much or more than I do.

  3. I can remember standing on the canadian side of the falls at the age of 12 and feeling the great and vastness of it and the awe I felt being that close to the edge. What a great share, love art so much and the history of our state is what makes it more interesting !
    Linda Marie Finn

    1. It’s an experience you carry with you through your life—Niagara is truly spectacular.

  4. I loved the confluence of the Hudson River's history, art and artists. Your historical narrative alongside the paintings drew me into the landscape of our Great Grandmother's era.
    I can't wait to read Lessons on Love!

    1. Thank you spy hopper MaryAlice. . 😄 i’m So glad our great grandparents settled in NY!