Inspired by artist Thomas Cole, the painters of the Hudson
River school were a loosely formed group whose activities
centered along the Hudson River valley between 1840
and 1880. Their paintings combined a poet's romantic
sense of nature with a geographer's sense of place. Drawn
from the collection of Dr. and Mrs. Michel Hersen, this
exhibition demonstrates the talents of thirty-two of the
artists who celebrated the landscape from the coast of
Maine to the edge of the expanding frontier.
The richly painted landscapes reflect a time when the
American landscape was relatively unmarred by
development. At first glance, the paintings seem simply to
represent beauty, repose, and rest. At a deeper level,
however, the paintings evoke a philosophical ideal that
places humanity in relation to the immensity of nature. The
paintings often transcend literal description to make a
spiritual statement. While many of their contemporaries
viewed nature as a hostile entity to be controlled or as a
bonanza to be exploited, the Hudson River artists revered
nature as the embodiment of God and the universal spirit.
By 1900, most of the Hudson River artists were forgotten
and their paintings considered old fashioned and
sentimental. This changed after World War II when many of
these artists were rediscovered. Today, we appreciate the
paintings as images of a lost pre-industrial paradise.
Environmentalists are inspired by the landscapes and the
depiction of nature and its inherent beauty. However, the
distinctive characteristics of the best of these paintings —
poetic depiction combined with spiritual intensity — allow
them to stand on their own as significant contributions to
the history and development of American art.
Included in this exhibition are canvases by Hudson River
painters such as Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900),
Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), and Julie Hart Beers
(1835-1913). The Hersens hope the exhibition will serve
to generate further public interest and scholarly activity in
the yet untapped vault of the Hudson River treasure trove.
An illustrated 64 page color book, with an essay by noted
American art historian William Kloss, is being published by
the Frye Art Museum in connection with the exhibition.
Copyright Frye Art Museum, 2000.