Obelisk Art History
Industrial Revolution

Hudson River School
An American fraternity of mountain worshipers

Hudson River School, Industrial Revolution

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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Reed Enger, "Hudson River School, An American fraternity of mountain worshipers," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 18, 2016; last modified July 21, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/industrial-revolution/hudson-river-school/.

Read More
Distant View of Niagara Falls, Thomas Cole

Distant View of Niagara Falls Thomas Cole, 1830

A View near Tivoli (Morning), Thomas Cole

A View near Tivoli (Morning) Thomas Cole, 1832

The Titan's Goblet, Thomas Cole

The Titan's Goblet Thomas Cole, 1833

The Course of Empire 1: The Savage State, Thomas Cole

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The Course of Empire 2: The Pastoral State, Thomas Cole

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The Course of Empire 5: Desolation, Thomas Cole

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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 Cole, 1836

The Course of Empire 4: Destruction, Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire 4: Destruction Thomas Cole, 1836

The Course of Empire 3: The Consummation of Empire, Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire 3: The Consummation of Empire Thomas Cole, 1835 – 1836

The Oxbow, Thomas Cole

The Oxbow Thomas Cole, 1836

In the Berkshires, George Inness

In the Berkshires George Inness, 1848 – 1850

Landscape Mural, Robert S. Duncanson

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A Dream of Italy, Robert S. Duncanson

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Heart of the Andes, Frederic Edwin Church

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Landscape with Rainbow, Robert S. Duncanson

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Chapultpec Castle, Robert S. Duncanson

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Twilight in the Wilderness, Frederic Edwin Church

Twilight in the Wilderness Frederic Edwin Church, 1860

The Icebergs, Frederic Edwin Church

The Icebergs Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

Cotopaxi, Frederic Edwin Church

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Indians Spear Fishing, Albert Bierstadt

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The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, Albert Bierstadt

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Aurora Borealis, Frederic Edwin Church

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Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, Albert Bierstadt

Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California Albert Bierstadt, 1865

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, Albert Bierstadt

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie Albert Bierstadt, 1866

Rainy Season in the Tropics, Frederic Edwin Church

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Niagara Falls, Frederic Edwin Church

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The Parthenon, Frederic Edwin Church

The Parthenon Frederic Edwin Church, 1871

Sierra Nevada, Albert Bierstadt

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El Rio de Luz (The River of Light), Frederic Edwin Church

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Mount Corcoran, Albert Bierstadt

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Next Movement
Early Photography, Industrial Revolution

Early Photography

Nature's pencil: light!

1826 – 1860

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