Hudson River School Exhibition Opens at Worcester Art Museum

WORCESTER, MASS., JANUARY 29, 1999 - Bask in the tranquility of works from America's first national school of landscape painting with "All that is Glorious Around Us": Paintings from the Hudson River School, on view at the Worcester Art Museum from March 13 - June 27, 1999. The exhibition showcases approximately 75 paintings by leading Hudson River School painters such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and John Frederick Kensett, as well as accomplished examples by lesser-known artists like Regis Francois Gignoux and John Hermann Carmiencke. The majority of the works are from a single private collector, eight works are from the Worcester Art Museum's permanent collection, and a small group of tourist prints are from the American Antiquarian Society.

"My goal is to encourage people to recognize that the Hudson River School consisted of many more than the handful of famous painters usually featured in an exhibition of their work, including professional women and African-American artists," says David R. Brigham, curator of American art at the Worcester Art Museum. "I would also like visitors to understand the important cultural themes that are addressed in the works of art, such as notions of change in the land, poetic and religious reflections on nature, and attitudes towards new uses of the land that included tourism and industry."

Hudson River School painters were more than talented artists. As if on a mission, they helped create romantic reflections on America's virgin landscape before and during the country's transformation in the 19th century. Land was part of the national consciousness at the time and was considered an inherent part of democracy, wealth, and God's provisions. Hudson River School painters captured this sentiment by painting dramatic landscape scenes that revealed both the tranquility and turmoil settlers could experience as they braved territory in the new world.

As the country became more industrialized, Americans yearned for idyllic illustrations of landscape scenery. They wanted images of the land itself, the Native Americans who dwelt on it, and the adventurous people who settled it. Wealthy merchants, bankers, and factory owners sought landscape paintings as representations of more peaceful, serene times, and as an antidote to the harsh business world. "Armchair travelers," whose personal experiences did not take them to the unsettled western frontiers of the growing nation, desired paintings of a countryside they might never see. And resort owners and their guests wanted paintings of the scenes that represented places of rest and leisure. Hudson River School artists accommodated all of these needs by painting panoramic, sweeping vistas with glorious sunsets, many-hued cloud formations, gracefully bowed trees, and majestic mountains.

The Hudson River School movement spanned more than 80 years and included three generations of painters. The first generation began in 1820 with Thomas Doughty of Philadelphia, Alvan Fisher of Boston, and Thomas Cole of New York. Cole, who is generally thought to have founded this movement, was joined by his contemporaries in using landscape imagery as a backdrop for moralistic and religious scenes. Americans appreciated the pristine, Edenlike wilderness in Cole's early paintings that provided a natural sanctuary in which to find God. The second generation of Hudson River School painters began when Cole died in 1848, and his colleague, Asher B. Durand, assumed leadership of the movement. Painters of this generation tended to be much younger than Durand, and included the likes of Frederic Church, Sanford Gifford, John Kensett, Jervis McEntee, and Worthington Whittredge. While following Cole's style of glorifying nature, they abandoned the moralistic treatments and chose, instead, to let their depictions of nature inspire the viewer. The third and last generation of this movement transformed America's first school of painting to one that was inspired by the European style then in vogue, which was concerned as much with the painterly effects of art as with the depiction of nature.

While Hudson River School artists helped professionalize American art, many of them did not receive formal training either in America or Europe. Many of the artists were self-taught, and their vision of the New World's panorama continues to evoke emotional reactions among viewers. Some of the artists did receive formal training, however, both in the states and abroad. Several of the best Hudson River School painters were also experienced engravers, including Durand and Kensett. Engraving required a precise proficiency of the eye and extreme manual dexterity, which helped the painters understand how to delineate nature's forms.

Hudson River School artists made it a point to feature light, from sunrises to sunsets. Their method of using the broad, sweeping perspective was persistent, as was their propensity to paint trees, mountains, hills, riverbanks, and rocks in exquisite detail. While European paintings favored classical and religious figures, many of the Hudson River School paintings included pioneers and/or Native Americans at work.

Manifest destiny, or the theory that God gave white Americans the sole responsibility and authority to make use of the land, was a national concept that Hudson River School painters and literary figures at the time sought to portray. It inspired them to paint and write about the glorious landscape as God's nurturing gift to the pioneers of the day. These artists and writers were also keenly aware of manifest destiny's cost to the land and to Native Americans who lived on it, and lamented this loss in such paintings as Whittredge's Kaaterskill Falls and stories like "Leatherstocking Tales" by James Fenimore Cooper. The reverence these artists bestowed on the land also foreshadowed today's environmental consciousness and concern with the effects that industrial and personal activities have on polluting our land, water and air.

Organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, this exhibition will also travel to the National Academy in New York from July 14 through September 12, 1999. Accompanying the exhibition is a hardcover catalogue with an essay and full-color plates of the paintings, available from the Worcester Art Museum for $29.95 by calling 508.799.4406, x3053. Related events at the Worcester Art Museum will include a Family Day on April 11, 1999, poetry readings, and a lecture series. Major exhibition and program support is provided by Fallon Healthcare System. Additional generous support is provided by Flagship Bank and Trust Company, Members' Council, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities-a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michie Family Curatorial Fund, Britta Jeppson Curatorial Fund, Paul C. and Gladys W. Richards Foundation, and the Robert and Amelia Hutchinson Haley Lectures Fund.

Museum Background

Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.