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Skip Navigation LinksKCC Home > Art Gallery > Different at Every Turn: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River


Different at Every Turn
Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River

April 8 - April 28, 2009


In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed the Dutch ship 'Halve Maen' (the Half Moon) up a river between what are now known as New York City and Albany. After he and his crew had journeyed approximately 150 miles, the lead sloop found the river too shallow for further navigation and the expedition was forced to turn back south.
Although foiled in his attempt to find a northern passage to Asia and a shortcut to the spice trade, Hudson realized the historic nature of his voyage and anticipated the importance of the waterway, which he would later describe to his employers in Amsterdam as plentiful in fish and game, populated by curious and friendly natives, and extraordinarily beautiful.

As we now know, the river was named for him. Dutch settlers came to the Valley starting around 1614 and settled places they called New Amsterdam (later New York), 'Breuckelen' (Brooklyn), New Paltz, 'Wiltwyck' (later Kingston), 'Zager's Killetje' (Saugerties: 'The Sawmill on the Little Stream'), and Fort Orange (later Albany).

Hudson traveled past sites that today serve as both reminders of the river's timeless splendor and as landmarks for our nation's history. He sailed past the majestic cliffs below where West Point Military Academy was to become the place Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant received their military training; past the mountain range we call the Catskills with their splendid views of natural wilderness that were to serve as the inspiration for the Hudson River School of painters in the nineteenth century; and past a hill on the east bank, just north of Saugerties, that was chosen centuries later by Frederic Edwin Church as a site for his Persian-style house, Olana, which still overlooks the river valley today.

Traveling up the Hudson Valley into northern New York State, the exhibit "Different at Every Turn: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River" commemorates the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's historic voyage. Presenting the work of seventeen artists, it gives us a diverse array of visual images, each a small event of illumination revealing different imaginative realities of the river. These works remind us that the Hudson River is a constantly changing and inspiring force.

Virginia Creighton, curator

 

The Hudson River and Its Painters
Diane Radycki, PhD

The Hudson, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Colorado: America has great rivers, but only one attracted a school of painters to itself, to its light, to its landscape. Only one shaped our artistic identity.
Henry Hudson first explored the river, which would come to bear his name, in 1609. For the next two centuries, cartographers and illustrators inspired Europeans with factual and fanciful renderings of this marvelous river with its 300-mile reach into the New World. During these centuries the Hudson River supported the new world's revolutions, first political and then industrial. But it was not until the first quarter of the nineteenth century that the artistic possibilities of the river and its landscape were realized, in the writings of Washington Irving and in the paintings of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. What these artists painted, and how they painted it, came to be identified as the Hudson River School.

Thomas Cole (1801-48) was there first, in 1825, with a now legendary trio of romantic, detailed, and quiet panoramic landscapes that announced a distinctly American subject. The Falls of the Kaaterskill, Lake with Dead Trees, and A View of Fort Putnam catapulted him to fame in exhibition and in print, and immediately inaugurated the Hudson River School. The movement did not take as long as twenty-five years--or the span of Cole's career--to achieve wide popularity in America. It was our first indigenous art movement to do so.
Cole began, out of financial need, as an itinerant portraitist, and ended as the celebrated founder of the first important American school of landscape painting. The year after his death, Cole was memorialized in the famous and iconic Kindred Spirits, 1849, by Asher B. Durand (1796-1886). Durand, who was deemed the greatest artist in America at the time, painted Cole together with poet William Cullen Bryant. The two friends and champions of idealized nature are but small figures in a great landscape on a large canvas. Durand posed them on a precipice overhanging a deep gorge in the rampant wilds of the Kaaterskill Clove. Cole and Bryant stand at ease for all time in the company of each other and of an awesome nature.

Cole himself inserted few figures into his paintings of the untamed American landscape. Instead, he imaged wide vistas, solitary forests, and wild vegetation, sketched on site in pencil and painted in the studio with painstaking attention to detail. This came to be the identifying style of the Hudson River School. Cole influenced many painters, Durand and Frederic Edwin Church (Cole's only pupil) among them. Cole, Durand, and painter and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse were among the leading artists who founded the National Academy of Design in 1825 to promote the fine arts in America.

After the death of Cole, Durand became the leader of the Hudson River School, as well as its theoretician. He too painted panoramic views and wildly tangled woodlands with a highly detailed brush. In his writings Durand made it specific that he looked on painting nature as a sacred, even religious endeavor. Later generations of landscape painters, termed Luminists, combined careful naturalistic treatment with dramatic effects of light and atmosphere. Regardless, through generations and aesthetic variations, all these artists shared a sense of wonderment at the expansive grandeur of the American landscape.

The Hudson River School was never an organized group. Indeed, the name is loosely applied to a number of nineteenth-century American landscape painters, including some who worked far from New York. Among its principal artists were Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-65), John F. Kensett (1816-72), Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), and Thomas Moran (1837-1926). While the artists worked mainly, though not exclusively, in the Catskill Mountains of New York (and, in the case of Cole and Church, lived along the upper Hudson River), the best known paintings of Lane and Kensett are of the eastern seaboard; of Church, Niagara, 1857, and The Heart of the Andes, 1859; of Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, 1863; and of Moran, the Far West.

No matter where in North or South America they painted, all these landscape painters subscribed to Durand's sentiment, that nature is 'fraught with high and holy meaning, only surpassed by the light of Revelation.' Such a sacred attitude was not confined to these continents. In nineteenth-century Europe, German Romanticism and French Naturalism were art movements that also reverenced landscape - and that flourished coeval with an industrial revolution that ravaged the pristine nature of both the Old and New Worlds. By the mid-twentieth century, industrial progress and pollution in America was sounding a death knell for the indomitable Hudson River.

The tolling was heard, and answered by conservationists, among them, folksinger Pete Seeger and the legendary sloop Clearwater. Because of their best efforts, today a quadricentennial celebration of the Hudson River is both possible and ennobling. The sublime river that for centuries was home and succor to nations of Native Americans (as it would be later to Franklin Delano Roosevelt), that Henry Hudson explored for the Dutch, that General Washington commandeered for a new nation, that Robert Fulton plied in his steamboat, and that inspired America's artists and writers, again runs a cleaner course: from its source in the Adirondacks' Lake Tear of the Clouds down the valley, past Albany and West Point, between New Jersey and Manhattan, into Upper New York Bay.

Contemporary painters of the Hudson River no longer share a common vision, aesthetic, or technique, as attests this exhibition in its very title, "Different At Every Turn: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River." The once vast, visual undertaking of mind-bogglingly detailed painting that was the signature of the nineteenth-century Hudson River School is redrawn in the twenty-first century in energetically churning brushstrokes or flat, abstract compositions (Susanna Heller; Heidi Glück). Today, the viewpoint can still be panoramic, or the opposite, so close-up as to negate any sense of setting (Yvonne Jacquette, Bill Murphy, Thomas Nelson; Robert Berlind). Work can be done directly from nature, or in the studio, or some combination of both--as was more usual in both centuries (Bill Hochhausen, Cynthia Mailman).

The painters of the Hudson River School uniformly reverenced the balance of a glorious and serene nature, whereas today's painters are not compelled by one aesthetic nor do they see one nature. Some of them still delight in a timeless and quiet landscape, one where human figures are insignificant (Herbert Katzman, Ellen Kozak, Diana Kurz); but some also bear witness to nature's deviations, such as a whale swimming upriver (Virginia Creighton); or to the incursion of culture, such as the built riverscape of docks, piers, and Manhattan buildings (Simon Gaon, Peter McCaffrey, Susan Pyzow), or the disappearance of native peoples (Sylvia Sleigh). Sometimes an artist represents, interprets, and comments on the Hudson River that is before the eyes, and sometimes an artist uses the river that is before the eyes in order to be able to map the river seen in the mind's eye (Sidney Tillim).

"Different At Every Turn" demonstrably exhibits our diverse art practice, and subtly contrasts with our homogeneous beginnings long ago in the Hudson River School. This exhibition celebrates the abiding power of the Hudson River, and pays homage to the river that first made painters out of us.

Bibliography

Earenfight, Philip and Nancy Siegel, ed. Within the Landscape: Essays on Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture. Carlisle, Pa: The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, 2005.

Lewis, Tom. The Hudson: A History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979.


Exhibition Checklist
Diana Kurz
The Hudson River From Bear Mountain Bridge

oil on canvas, 40" x 48"

Susan Pyzow
Hudson River Park / Pier Remnants...
image
acrylic on panel, 20" x 16"

Sidney Tillim
Winter Landscape II

oil on canvas, 24" x 50"

Simon Gaon
Maxwell House on the Hudson ...
image
oil on canvas, 50" x 54"

Robert Berlind
Busted Hickory

oil on canvas, 50" x 60"

Bill Murphy
Along the Arthur Kill...
image
watercolor on paper, 52" x 60"

Virginia Creighton
Whale's Journey Up the Hudson...
image
oil on canvas, 36" x 60"

Susanna Heller
Grrgantua Manhattan...
image
oil on canvas, 54" x 37.25"

Herbert Katzman
Glorious Sky, NY Bay

oil on canvas, 32" x 40"

Ellen Kozak
East Bank

oil on panel, 17" x 20"

Cynthia Mailman
Turn of the Century-Wetlands-Disappeared Flora-Staten Island, NY (Cranberry, fringed gentian)...
image
acrylic, gouache and gold leaf on paper, 21.25 " x 16.75"

Tom Nelson
All Creation

oil on masonite, 4" x 25.25"

Peter McCaffrey
Castle on the Hudson...
image
oil and leaf on panel, 12" x 12"

Bill Hochhausen
Orchard to the Hudson...
image
oil and acrylic on panel, 31" x 59"

Yvonne Jacquette
Metropolitan Dawn II...
image
oil on canvas, 62 5/8" x 51"

Sylvia Sleigh
Douglas John...
image
watercolor on paper, 13" x 18"

Heidi Glück

Untitled
...
image
acrylic and ink on paper, 16" x 20"

Itinerary
CW Post Campus of Long Island University, Brookville, NY
Feb 4 - March 31, 2009

Art Gallery, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
April 8 - April 28, 2009

Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse, NY
May 5 - May 27, 2009

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, VT
June 3 - 28, 2009

Albany Institute of History & Art, Albany, NY
July 3 - August 23

State University of New York, Potsdam, NY
Sept 11 - Oct 17, 2009

United States Military Academy at West Point
Oct 29, 2009 - Jan 10, 2010

 

Different at Every Turn: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, with funding provided by the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission.

The exhibition is presented in association with Eco-Festival, 2009, an annual program of Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.


 

 

 


 

 

 

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