A brief summary is below.
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This informal association was America's first so-called school of painting and the dominant landscape style until the Civil War. The name derives from a group of 19th-century landscape painters working in New York state. With realistic composition, they depicted romantic views of unsettled areas of the Hudson River Valley especially lakes, rocky gorges, and forests in the Catskill Mountains. About a fourth of these artists utilized luminism or effects with special lighting techniques to convey lofty emotions through contrasts of light and dark. Included in this Hudson River luminist category were Albert Bierstadt, William Hart, and Frederic Edwin Church.
Thomas Cole is considered the leader of the movement, which began in 1825 when other artists discovered Cole's landscapes whose loftiness and sense of high drama suggested communication with God through nature. For Cole and later his followers, the landscape was a sacred place.
Hudson River School adherents including Asher Durand and Frederic Edwin Church often did panoramic views in a romantic, semi-realist style, with an underlying mood of serenity and contemplation.
The School is credited with making landscape for the first time a legitimate subject for canvas and for conveying a sense of place that was uniquely American. Although the compositional and stylistic devices were Old World -- at least 36 of the Hudson River artists had been trained in European academies -- the subject matter infused Americans with the confidence to turn away from European subjects to their own culture. And today, works by certain members of the Hudson River School remain strong in the market place with leaders being Martin Heade, Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, George Inness, and Albert Bierstadt.
For many of the Hudson River School artists, discovering the wonders of the landscape in upstate New York aroused a desire to explore the wonders of the American West. Artists who went West were: Albert Bierstadt, Albertus Browere, Harrison Brown, John Casilear, Samuel Colman, Henry Fenn, George Fuller, Sanford Gifford, Martin Heade, George Inness, John Kensett, Worthington Whittredge, and Alexander Wyant. As a result of their travels, many historic scenes have been preserved; awareness of other cultures made its way back East; and the world of American art moved westward.
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After the Civil War, Impressionism and other revolutionary styles, originating in Europe, usurped Hudson River School painters as the dominant influence on American landscape painting.