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The Hudson River School: Paintings, Artists & Art

Instructor: Matthew Hill
The Hudson River School was a group of American artists based in New York. Part of the Romantic Movement, they were known for their landscapes and pastoral settings.

Hudson River School:Themes

The Hudson River School of painting is sometimes referred to as 'America's first fraternity of painters.' Thomas Cole, an English immigrant to America, is considered its founder, though his intent was more to collaborate with like-minded painters. Cole established a studio in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where he trained other artists. Their work was rooted in the Romantic style, which was especially popular in Germany, England and the United States, and sought to capture the beauty and grandeur of nature.

In this genre, people took second place to landscapes, pastoral settings, wooded areas, waterfalls, scenic meadows and other idyllic settings. To capture the essence of nature, many painters in this school fanned out throughout the hills of New York and New England. Other artists, as we shall see, traveled to Europe, South America and even the Arctic. Though there are many artists we could study, let's examine four of the best-known artists of the Hudson River School.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, England; he came to the United States with his family when he was 17. His big break as an artist came when John Trumbull, the distinguished artist of the American Revolution, took an interest in his work. Trumbull introduced Cole to his inner-circle in New York, where he met the poet, William Cullen Bryant, and the novelist, James Fenimore Cooper. Cole would eventually paint some of the themes found in their writings.

One of Cole's best-known works is a 5-part series called the Course of Empire, which portrayed the rise and fall of the classical world. He also painted a 4-part series titled the Voyage of Life, which pictured life from birth to old age. Additionally, Cole painted in Italy, where he created several well-received paintings based on medieval themes, such as the The Titans Goblet. Cole was working on a series of religious-themed paintings when he died unexpectedly in 1848.

Thomas Cole, The Titans Goblet
Thomas Cole Painting

Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)

An admirer of Thomas Cole's work, Asher Durand was one of the first to purchase one of his paintings. He apprenticed with the sculptor, Peter Maverick, before working with John Trumbull and turning more to painting. Durand was also one of the founders and served as president of the National Academy of Design. When Cole died in 1848, Durand painted Kindred Spirits, which showed Cole standing next to his friend, William Cullen Bryant.

Like Cole, Durand painted landscapes around the Hudson River, the Adirondack Mountains and New England. He also produced a few historical paintings, but these too were centered within New England landscapes.

Asher Durand, Kindred Spirits
Asher Durand Painting

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)

Among our four artists, only Frederic Edwin Church studied directly under Cole as a student. Church was known for his massive landscapes and scenic views; he leapt to instant fame with his 7-foot wide Niagara, unveiled in New York in 1857. However, inspired by tales of the Prussian explorer and naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt, he became best known for his paintings of South America. He made two trips to the continent himself, travelling mostly in Columbia and Ecuador.

Some of Church's best-known works included the 10-foot The Heart of the Andes, The River of Light, The Andes of Ecuador and Cotopaxi, which captured the stunning beauty of the Amazonian landscape. Church eventually made trips to Europe, the Middle East and even the Arctic.

Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes
Frederic Edwin Church Painting

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