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Hudson River School

An American fraternity of mountain worshipers

In 1825 the young self-taught portrait painter Thomas Cole moved from Philadelphia to Catskill New York, where he was immediately seduced by grand mountainous landscape. Catskill sits on the bank of the Hudson River in the shadow of the Slide Mountain wilderness. For the boy from Philly, it was a world of impossible natural beauty. Cole took a break from portraiture to hike into the mountains and paint the Kaaterskill Falls, the ruins of Fort Putnam, and two views of Cold Spring. He hoped to capture the fall colors, he didn't know that he had started a movement.

Cole's two paintings of Cold Spring were discovered in a bookstore and loaned to the American Academy of the Fine Arts, where the painters John Trumbull and Asher Durand and the playwright William Dunlap discovered them. The three artists hunted Cole down, and rallied around his new vision for landscape painting. Cole had been born in England, and his work was profoundly influenced by J.M.W. Turner and the English obsession with the sublime — the frightening power and grandeur of nature.

The search for the sublime in nature formed the core of the new brotherhood of painters, which grew to include Durand, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt and a handful of others. The so called 'Hudson River School' was a tight-knit bunch, nearly all of them belonging to the National Academy and working from the Studio Building on West Tenth Street — a collaborative artist workspace.

The Hudson River School flourished under the generous patronage of the East Coast's wealthiest, including the ship-owner and importer Robert Gilmor and trust-fund traveler Daniel Wadsworth. But the grandiose style of the HRS was short-lived. In 1856, when Asher Durand published his "Letters on Landscape Painting" — essentially a manifesto for the HRS, the English artist John Constable was emerging as the new voice of landscape painting, replacing bravado with quiet naturalism. By the first years of the 20th century, Cole was long dead, Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt gave up the ghost, and landscape painting faded from vogue. It had been a good run.

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Thomas Cole

Five kids, a farm, and dizzying allegory

1801-1848

Frederic Edwin Church

The theater of sun, sky and mountains

1826-1900

Albert Bierstadt

Salesman for westward expansion

1830-1902
Distant View of Niagara Falls

Distant View of Niagara Falls

Thomas Cole1830
The Titan's Goblet

The Titan's Goblet

Thomas Cole1833
The Course of Empire 1: The Savage State

The Course of Empire 1: The Savage State

Thomas Cole1834
The Course of Empire 2: The Pastoral State

The Course of Empire 2: The Pastoral State

Thomas Cole1834
The Course of Empire 3: The Consummation of Empire

The Course of Empire 3: The Consummation of Empire

Thomas Cole1835-1836
The Course of Empire 5: Desolation

The Course of Empire 5: Desolation

Thomas Cole1836
The Course of Empire 4: Destruction

The Course of Empire 4: Destruction

Thomas Cole1836
The Oxbow

The Oxbow

Thomas Cole1836

The good, the enlightened of all ages and nations, have found pleasure and consolation in the beauty of the rural earth.

Essay on American Scenery

Thomas Cole1836
Heart of the Andes

Heart of the Andes

Frederic Edwin Church1859
Twilight in the Wilderness

Twilight in the Wilderness

Frederic Edwin Church1860
The Icebergs

The Icebergs

Frederic Edwin Church1861
Indians Spear Fishing

Indians Spear Fishing

Albert Bierstadt1862
Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi

Frederic Edwin Church1862
The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak

Albert Bierstadt1863
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California

Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California

Albert Bierstadt1865
Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

Frederic Edwin Church1865
Rainy Season in the Tropics

Rainy Season in the Tropics

Frederic Edwin Church1866
A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie

Albert Bierstadt1866
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Frederic Edwin Church1867
The Parthenon

The Parthenon

Frederic Edwin Church1871
Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada

Albert Bierstadt1871-1873
Mount Corcoran

Mount Corcoran

Albert Bierstadt1876-1877
El Rio de Luz (The River of Light)

El Rio de Luz (The River of Light)

Frederic Edwin Church1877