Hudson River School Art Movement – History, Artists and Artwork

What is Hudson River School?

Hudson River School indicates a large group of American painters who worked around 1850 in the United States, especially in the north of the state of New York and in New England, who focused on landscape painting. It has been the first native and dominant school of painting in the United States. Hudson River School painters celebrated the beauty of North American natural landscapes, often with high nationalistic and proud intentions. They painted the natural elements in the areas of Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains, from this aspect derived their collective name.

It is thought that the choice of the name Hudson River School is due to the art critic of the New York Tribune Clarence Cook, or Homer Dodge Martin, a landscape painter. At first, the name had a derogatory meaning, being the en-plein-air style of landscape painting considered outmoded. However, this label was to emphasize more communion of intentions and themes than a precise geographical location. Hudson River School painters used to depict the American Natural landscape, in a realistic and detailed manner, also highlighting their peaceful, picturesque, pastoral aspects and their wilderness, which was about to disappear at the end of the 19th century.

Examples of Hudson River School Artworks


History of Hudson River School

Hudson River School is considered a dominant art movement of the mid-19th century in the United States. It was strongly influenced by Romanticism and other European landscape painting schools, such as the German Nazarenes or by landscape masters like Joseph Turner or John Constable. However, this group of painters set independent values and a common aesthetic vision, rooted in national landscapes, and influenced also by American literature of the time, such as the ideals of American Transcendentalist writers like Emerson, Thoreau, William Cullen Bryant, and Walt Whitman. Hudson River School painters worked between 1850 and 1870, and the major exponents of the movement were Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty. The first is typified by an interest in stormy and impressive nature, the second by a preference for peaceful and more contemplative landscapes.

Thomas Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School, hiking the area of Catskill mountains to depict its natural landscapes, and being reviewed by the New York Evening Post in 1982. He also was the teacher of Frederic Edwin Church, another relevant presence of the movement with Albert Bierstadt. After Cole’s premature death, the leader of the school became Asher B. Durand, famous for his woodland scenes and also relevant as the author of “Letters on Landscape Painting”, an important codification of Naturalism concepts in art. The themes of this group of painters also characterized the second generation of artists, including Cole’s pupils John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford.

Hudson River School aesthetics was characterized by the emphasis on the natural resources of the United States of America, which they depicted with wonder and often on large scale canvases, to highlight their greatness. Painters also focused on the relationship of human beings with nature, perceived as a creation of God and in which humans can feel lost. They also pointed out an idealized vision of nature, which contrasted the artificial changes of the Industrial Revolution.

Notable Hudson River School Artists

  • Thomas Cole, (February 1, 1801 – February 11, 1848), Anglo-American
  • Frederic Edwin Church, (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900), American
  • Asher B. Durand, (August 21, 1796 – September 17, 1886), American
  • Thomas Doughty, (July 19, 1793 – July 22, 1856), American
  • Alvan Fisher, (August 9, 1792 – February 13, 1863), American
  • John Fredrick Kensett, (March 22, 1816 – December 14, 1872), American
  • Jasper Francis Cropsey, (February 18, 1823 – June 22, 1900), American
  • John William Casilear, (June 25, 1811 – August 17, 1893), American
  • George Inness, (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894), American
  • Susie M. Barstow, (May 9, 1836 – June 12, 1923), American

Related Art Terms

About Cinzia Franceschini

Cinzia Franceschini is an Italian Art Historian specializing in the History of Art Criticism, with a second degree in Communications and Sociology studies. She studied in Padua, Brussels, Turin as well as anywhere with an Internet connection. She works as a guide in Museum Education Departments and as a Freelance Writer. She writes about Contemporary Arts and Social Sciences, and how they intertwine.

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