Art collectors tend to focus on "big"
names and in the Hudson River School of landscape painting in
19th Century America there were quite a few: Thomas Cole (1801-1848),
Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), John F. Kensett (1818-1872), Sanford
Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900),
Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Frederic E. Church (1826-1900).
The depth of talent in the Hudson River School,
however, is remarkable and there are many lesser-known artists
who produced marvelous works. The "second-tier" of artists
includes such painters as John William Casilear (1811-1893), Homer
Dodge Martin (1836-1897), James McDougal Hart (1828-1901) and
his brother, William (1823-1894), David Johnson (1827-1908), Jervis
McEntee (1828-1891), Samuel Colman (1822-1920), Thomas Worthington
Whittredge (1820-1910), and William Trost Richards (1833-1905).
A "third-tier" would probably include
Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908), Benjamin Champney (1817-1907),
Regis Gignoux (1816-1882), John Herman Carmiencke (1810-1867),
James Suydam (1819-1865).
A "fourth-tier" group might include
John Bristol, James Suydam, Clinton Loveridge (1824-1902), Russell
Smith (1812-1896), Albert Fitch Bellows (1829-1883), William Richarby
Miller (1818-1893), Alexander Lawrie (1828-1917), Eliza Greatorex
(1820-1897), DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1820-1884), Charles H. Chapin
(1830-1889), Henry Boese (1824-1863), William Sanford Mason (1828-1898),
James Fairman (1826-1904), Hermann Fueschel, (1833-1915), Frederick
Rondel (1826-1892), Thomas Prichard Rossiter (1818-1871), Herman
Herzog, 1832-1932), Joseph Antonio Hekking (1830-1903), James
Brade Sword (1839-1915), Edward Darch Lewis (1835-1910), Richard
William Hubbard (1816-1888), Charlkes W. Knapp (1823-1900), and
Arthur Parton (1842-1914).
All these artists and more are included in
a fine new book entitled "Different Visions in Hudson River
School Painting," by Judith Hansen O'Toole (Columbia University
Press in association with Westmoreland College, 2006, pp. , $35).
The book, which was accompanied by a fine exhibition at The Babcock
Gallery at 724 Fifth Avenue from November 6, 2006 to February
1, 2007, includes 120 excellent color illustrations of paintings
by 60 artists, an impressive, albeit not encyclopedic, selection
of works from a private collection. Some big names are missing
in this book such as George Inness, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas
Moran, Alexander Wyant, Robert Duncanson, William Haseltine, William
Sonntag, John Williamson, and Thomas Doughty, but they were included
in an earlier book, "All That is Glorious Around Us, Paintings
From The Hudson River School," by John Driscoll, Cornell
University Press, Ithaca and London, 1997, pp. 144, 75 illustrations
(see The City Review article), that
included works by about 40 artists from the same collection.
The private collection that is the basis of
the two books now contains about 350 Hudson River School paintings
and what is extremely impressive is that the vast majority of
the works will not be familiar to the vast majority of collectors
and that they are of uniformly high quality. While not all the
paintings in the collections are major masterpieces, the vast
majority of them are real jewels, representative of the best qualities
of the artists. The collection therefore must rank with the finest
in the country and their existence has been pretty much a secret.
The paintings are in superb condition and they are excellently
In her acknowledgments, Judith Hansen O'Toole,
the director of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, has noted
that the collection was exhibited previously, in 1978, at the
Palmer Museum of Art (then the Museum of Art at the University
of Pennsylvania) and that the accompanying catalogue, printed
in a small edition and long out-of-print, then was written by
John Driscoll. Mr. Driscoll, who is now the director of the Babcock
Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York, rewrote the catalogue, which
was expanded to accommodate new acquisitions as well as new research
since the original exhibition.
The result was undoubtedly the finest introduction
to the Hudson River School painters as Driscoll's introduction
was a brilliant synopsis of the historical and artistic context
and his individual essays on the artists and paintings were richly
informative and incisive.
There were probably a 1,000 or so quite competent
and worthy 19th Century American artists, an impressive number
especially since only a half-century ago most connoisseurs would
have been hard-pressed to name a hundred! Such a list, of course,
includes genre painters, Impressionist painters, Western painters,
Tonalist painters and American Renaissance painters.
In his preface to O'Tool's book, Mr. Driscoll
maintains that "No other similar collection combining both
masterworks and exemplary paintings so thoroughly and comprenhesively
explores the moment and history aof American visual culture of
the Hudson River School era," adding that "Given its
scope and qulaity it is a treasure trove that recommends itself
as a national treasure."
The first exhibition of this anonymous private
collection was held in 1978 at the University of Art at the Pennsylvania
Sate University, whihc is now known as the Palmer Museum. Mr.
Driscoll wrote the catalogue for that show and 18 years wrote
another for the exhibition accompanying his book and that show
traveled to 18 venues. "O'Toole," Mr. Driscoll wrote
in his preface to the new book, "has sensitively selected
the current exhibition and elucidated a range of comparisons and
contrasts that enhance understanding of the achievements of thought
and art implicit in Hudson River School landscape paintings. The
collection's vast array of representative paintings tantalize
and suggest associations of mind and eye between the paintings
and the artist who create them, between ideas and concepts that
might not otherwise surface from a smaller seclection of pictures,
between images and themes that are ever renewed in the experence
of generations of scholars and viewers."
"This exhibition of Hudson River School
artists," Ms. O'Toole wrote, "focuses on their frequent
creation of and reliance on pairs and series of paintings to express
central or recurrent themes of great significance to the movement.
The underlying purpose of grouping paintings this way is to enable
contemporary viwers to appreciate more readily the nineteenth-century
artist's ideas and objejectives through active engagement in the
comparisons and contrasts delineated in these pairings....This
is the first study to concentrate on illuminating the particular
practice of Hudson River School artists to create pairs, series,
and groups of paintings that are thematically related....What
has virtually escaped modern critical attention is that widespread
production of paired paintings by artists of the Hudson River
School indicated a response by these artists not only to their
own impulses but also to public demand. Paired paintings became
very popular and very much sought after, which hleps explain why
so many individual artists painted pairs on more than one occasion."
Asher B. Durand's superb "Woodland Interior," O'Toole
remarks that "To Durand, Cole, Church, Kensett, Casilear,
David Johnson, and others, trees were fascinating living objects
of nature, imbued with individual character demanding close study."
"In the late 1840s and early 1850s," she continued,
"Durand produced numerous forest interiors resembling this
one. He often paired his trees, as here, so that he could more
readily compare and contrast their features and the different
shades of green in their leaves. He delighted in showing their
rough surfaces covered with lichen and moss. Their inherent nobility
and grandeur were eloquently conveyed through his artistic mastery.
The feeling of being in the wilderness is so realistically conveyed
here that the viewer can almost smell the peat moss, the decaying
trees, and other odors associated with the forest interior."
One of the
collection's major works is "A Lake Twilight" by Sanford
Robinson Gifford. It was painted in 1861 and O'Toole observes
that the Civil War had "violently disrupted the peace and
optimism of the New World" and "Just one year earlier,
Frederic Church created his tour de force Twilight in the Wilderness.
In that context, this painting probably represents Gifford's response
to the earlier work. Though less bloodthirsty in its dramatic
use of color and light than Church's painting, A Lake Twilight
still smolders with tension and hostility. Light and dark are
contrasted throughout the composition: in the maple trees' bright
red foliage against the dark green of pines in the orange and
blue bands of cloud and sky; in the bright white shirt of a hunter
against the dark surface of the water. The pioneer struggles to
remove a deer carcass from his boat, emphasizing the conflict
between man and nature. Furthering this tension, the setting sun
pulls in the opposite direction from the hunter, lighting the
underside of clouds that skirt the uppermost part of the canvas.....Powerful,
emotive, and celebratory of the awesome beauty of nature, Gifford's
A Lake Twilight is a sublime acknowledgment of man's inevitable,
relentless struggles aginast one another, against nature, and
against the cycles of life over which man has little control.
Yet, as in many masterpieces of American luminism, a nearly, palpable
stillness and hush pervade the wilderness scene."
Casilear was a major member of the Hudson River School although
his works are relatively rare. "Genesee River Scenery,"
a 9 1/2-by-20-inch oil executed in 1873, is one of his masterpieces.
"Casilear's earlier training as an engraver is recalled through
his use of a narrow color range, close observation, and careful
rendering of natural detail. The special quality of pleasing,
gentle light that was his hallmark has a Claudian stillness to
it," O'Toole wrote.
by the River" by James McDougal Hart is part of a pair
by the artist that O'Toole maintains "realizes the potential
sought by artists who created pairs and series in order to communicate
themes and ideas." "Although each on its own is complete
and remarkable," she continued," together they resonate,
enriching one another thematically in a lively dialogue replete
with comparisons and contrasts. In a modestly sized pair of paintings,
Hart has produced a purposeful juxtapostion of a sublime theme
with a beautiful landscape to achieve the full impact of such
a comparison. "Mountain Falls" protrays a turbulent,
wild view of a rugged mountain waterfall....When the paintings
are positioned side by side, ther rushing falls in this composition
flow directly to meet the contrasting calm, mirrored surface of
a river running through Conversation by the River. Energy
and movement characteristic of the first are countered and balanced
by harmony and quietude in the second....In this particular scene,
the women seem to represent harmonious coexistence with nature,
as opposed to the fierce, uninhabitable, unaccommodating wilderness
delineated in the companion view."
Samuel Colman is a major member
of the Hudson River School who traveled widely. "Rainbow
on the Hudson" is one of his finest works.
"Elizabeth Greatorex's Landscape Near
Cragsmoor, NY, 1863," O'Toole noted, "provides little
evidence of the turmoil of the times, or of the artist's own personal
circumstances, having been widowed and left with two young daughters
five years earlier by her musician husband. An artist of great
achievement, including being the first woman elected an associate
member of the National Academy of Design, her works shows a sophisticated
romanticism with effortless, confident brushwork. The influence
of her teacher, James Hart, is apparent. Unfluring across her
painting of Cragsmoor is the tranquility associated with safe
harbor. The low skyline is broken only by the boughs of a tall
and broad tree, opening its foliage like a fan to shelter a group
of cows reposing in the alternating sun and shade of a rough meadow.
The roof of a cottage barely breaks the horizon line, resting
low, as does the earth, in Greatorex's peaceful scene."
Several major Hudson River
School artists, such as George Inness, Alexander Wyant and Homer
Dodge Martin, would significantly change their painting style
late in their careers. Martin would eventually become quite impressionistic
and his "Harp of the Winds" is one of the world's great
Impressionist works, even more lyrical than Monet's series of
Homer Dodge Martin is represented
by a pair of paintings of Saranac Lake, one in the morning and
one in the evening, both 18 by 32 inches and executed in 1857.
"In two evocative canvases,"
O'Toole observed, "one of morning and one of evening along
the shore of saranac Lake, Homer Dodge Martin demonstrates his
remarkable ability to render in paint the elusive, intangible
effects of light. Martin assimilated the Hudson River School aesthetic
through his contact with John Kensett, from whom he learned to
be a close, accurate observer of nature. Painted when Martin was
just twenty-one years old, these canvases already show the strength
of his mature work in the effective marriage of naturalistic detail
and atmospheric illusion. shying away from the more dramatic effects
of color and light that could be associated with dawn and dusk,
Martin chooses moments of serenity and quiet introspection, revealed
through subtle modulations of tone. In neither painting is the
direct source of light - the sun- seen, but its effects are obliquely
One of the loveliest works
in the collection is "Cows Watering in a Summer Landscape,"
by Hermann Fuechsel, who is not particularly famous.
O'Toole provides the following
"Born and schooled in
Germany, Hermann Fuechsel met American painters Albert Bierstadt
and Worthington Whittredge while studying at the Dusseldorf Acadaemy.
Later, after moving to New York, he occupied a studio in the Tenth
Street Studio Building [see The
City Review article],
where these three, along with Sanford gifford and other Hudson
River School painters, also worked. A narrow range of color and
crisp draftsmanship reveal Fuechsel's training and skill as an
engraver. Here, a strip of land along the Hudson River serves
to contrast the warm, solid colors of autumn against the cool,
soft hues of sky and water. Reflections of rust and yellow fall
from the land into the river's surface. autumnal colors tint the
otherwise pastel-hued mountainside. Two cows stand in shadow at
the water's edge, integrated by color and position into their
surroundings. They act as man's surrogates in the wilderness,
the symbol of nature's domestication yet, at least in this compostion,
not a theat to its balance or harmony. Two tall trees, their intricate
foliage darkly sihouetted against the light sky, mimic the pair
of cows; the intricate branches reach heavenward whereas the animals
Kaaterskill and Haines Falls are iconic sites
for the Hudson River School and attracted not only Thomas Cole
and Sanford Gifford, but also Fuechsel and O'Toole described his
very fine and idyllic depiction of the falls as "conjuring
up a world of innocence and mystery in this eloquent canvas."
"Majestic in its progression from dark to light, solid to
ephermal, the compostion is divided into three parts. In the
lower third, the solid forms of rock cliffs and promontories,
separated by Kaaterskill Creek, are painted in rich, dark earth
tones. In the middle third, contrasting trees on either side of
the creek ....frame the frshing torrent of Haines Falls, softened
and subdued in color by diffused early moning sunlight. The upper
third is devoted to the steep, forested slopes surrouning Kaaterskill
Falls, from whose waters diaphanous mists rise to shroud the mountside."
The exhibition includes three
pairs of landscapes by Clinton Loveridge that O'Toole notes reveal
"his mastery of spare, simple compositions that create, on
an imtimate scale, the vast expansiveness of land, water and sky,"
adding that "Modest in size, his scenes of the seasons are
consistent but not formulaic."
The Hudson River, not surprisingly,
is depicted in numerous works and one of the most beautiful is
"Cold Springs on Hudson," show at the top of this article,
painted in 1871 by Alexander Lawrie (1828-1917). O'Toole observes
that the river's "distant mirror-smooth surface is dotted
with white sails, indicating pleasure boats," and that "Distant
cliffs are lit with a glow from the late afternoon sun, the promise
of a smilarly bright and optimistic future."
A deer is the central focus
in a lovely 1870 painting by Charles H. Chapin, another relatively
obscure artist. "The clear dark silhouette of the central
deer, standing proudly against the bright light of sunset, can
be interpreted by symbolizing a final moment in the natural harmony
of the American wilderness and the subsequent, inevitable dawning
of another stage in the cycle of civilization," O'Toole remarked.
Benjamin Champney concentrated
most of his artistic efforts in norther New England and most of
his scenes are very bucolic, but "Ausable Chasm" is
a strikingly dramatic composition of the northern New York State
Albert Fitch Bellows is another
artist noted for his soft palette and romantic compositions and
"Down to the Brook" is a fine example of his work.
Niagara Falls was a favorite
subject with the Hudson River School even if geographically it
was a bit removed. A small but classic view of the great falls
was painted by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle in 1861 from a vantage
point used in the previous decade by both Robert Walter Weir and
Frederic E. Church.
Thomas Hill is best known as
one of the major painters of Yosemite but he also did some genre
paintings and is represented in this collection by a very dramatic
Niagara Falls scene and O'Toole corrected notes that "measuring
only 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, Hill's image is one in which drama
compacted is thereby intensified."
Some Hudson River Paintings assembled "scenery
samplers" such as one superb one in the collection by Regis
Francis Gignoux that is rather unusual in that the seven scenes
are presented in four different shapes.
O'Toole compares "Ruins
at Baalbeck" by Frederic Church to the final painting in
Thomas Cole's great series The Course of Empire and says
the reference to Cole is "reinforced by the presence of the
single figure in Church's composition - a goatherd, dwarfed and
encompassed by both nature and the ruins, shrouded by darkness
in the lower right corner." "Easily overlooked at first
glance, he nevertheless represents the presence of man in nature.
Two types of pipes relate this figure to Cole and Church, the
first being the musical pipe that rests behind the figure. The
pipes were played both by Pan of ancient myth and by Cole, who
loved the flute and other instruments, incorporating them often
in his paintings. The other pipe, this one of the smoking kind,
the figure holds to his mouth. Church smoked opium to ease the
painful arthritis that eventually caused him to cease painting.
The goatherd is the long 'observer,' so often depicted in landscape
paintings of the Hudson River School: he sits somewhat apart to
witness the sunset, the close of civilization, and to serve as
a reminder of the survival of man in a state much different from
that of his deceased ancestors, who built the glorious empire
now lying in ruins."
The only obvious major omissions in the two
books published thus far on the collection are George Inness,
Thomas Moran and Robert Walter Weir and others who could be included
are James A. Suydam, Louis Mignot, William Holbrook Beard, Aaron
Shattuck, and Kruseman Van Elten.