The Hudson River School | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (2023)

The Hudson River School was America’s first true artistic fraternity. Its name was coined to identify a group of New York City-based landscape painters that emerged about 1850 under the influence of the English émigré Thomas Cole (1801–1848) and flourished until about the time of the Centennial. Because of the inspiration exerted by his work, Cole is usually regarded as the “father” or “founder” of the school, though he himself played no special organizational or fostering role except that he was the teacher of Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900). Along with Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), Church was the most successful painter of the school until its decline. After Cole’s death in 1848, his older contemporary Asher B. Durand (1796–1886) became the acknowledged leader of the New York landscape painters; in 1845, he rose to the presidency of the National Academy of Design, the reigning art institution of the period, and, in 1855–56, published a series of “Letters on Landscape Painting” which codified the standard of idealized naturalism that marked the school’s production. The New York landscape painters were not only stylistically but socially coherent. Most belonged to the National Academy, were members of the same clubs, especially the Century, and, by 1858, many of them even worked at the same address, the Studio Building on West Tenth Street, the first purpose-built artist workspace in the city. Eventually, several of the artists built homes on the Hudson River. Though the earliest references to the term “Hudson River School” in the 1870s were disparagingly aimed, the label has never been supplanted and fairly characterizes the artistic body, its New York headquarters, its landscape subject matter, and often literally its subject.

If Cole is rightly designated the founder of the school, then its beginnings appear with his arrival in New York City in 1825. He determined to become a landscape painter after a period of itinerant portrait painting in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, and a stint in Philadelphia during which he admired and imitated the landscapes of early American specialists such as Thomas Doughty. As significantly, in 1824, a tourist hotel was opened in the Catskill Mountains 100 miles upriver from New York. Once in New York in late 1825, Cole sailed for the Catskills, making sketches there and elsewhere along the banks of the Hudson. He produced a series of paintings that, when spotted in a bookstore window by three influential artists, gained him widespread commissions and almost instant fame. He was welcomed into the larger cultural life of the city, and was befriended especially by William Cullen Bryant, the poet and newspaper editor, who wrote a sonnet to Cole when he departed on a Grand Tour of Europe in 1829.

(Video) Nineteenth-Century American Art

From the start, Cole’s style was marked by dramatic forms and vigorous technique, reflecting the British aesthetic theory of the Sublime, or fearsome, in nature. In the representation of American landscape, really in its infancy in the early nineteenth century, the application of the Sublime was virtually unprecedented, and moreover accorded with a growing appreciation of the wildness of native scenery that had not been seriously addressed by Cole’s predecessors. However, the wilderness theme had earlier gained currency in American literature, especially in the “Leatherstocking” novels of James Fenimore Cooper, which were set in the upstate New York locales that became Cole’s earliest subjects, including several pictures illustrating scenes from the novels. Fired by the initial reception to his work, as well as by engravings of historical landscapes by J. M. W. Turner and John Martin, Cole’s ambitions swelled during his European tour. After Cole returned to America, he continued to interpret the Italian landscape in the form of monumental allegories comprising several pictures, such as The Course of Empire (1833–36; New-York Historical Society) and, following his second European trip in 1839–40, The Voyage of Life (1840; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Ithaca, N.Y.). Cole continued to produce scenic American subjects, but even in those his aims were aggrandized by the historical and religious preoccupations of his mature career. He died rather suddenly in Catskill, New York, where he had moved in 1836, starting a tradition followed by many Hudson River School artists.

The engraver, portrait, and genre painter Asher Durand was one of the three discoverers of Thomas Cole in 1825 and, in the following decade, was gradually moved to take up landscape painting himself. However, by the time Durand wrote “Letters on Landscape Painting” in the 1850s, he had seen the plein-air work of John Constable, Turner’s colleague and rival, in England, and held Constable’s naturalism up as the standard for young landscape painters—in the process, gently relegating Cole’s histrionic subjects and style to the past. With the example of Durand in both word and practice, outdoor sketching in oils as the foundation of and model for studio landscapes became common, and both plein-airism and the loosening authority of Sublime aesthetics led to a less inflected idiom whose most conspicuous features often were the light influencing terrestrial forms and the air bathing them. This trend coincided with the proliferation of tourist resorts both inland and on the coast during the Civil War period, along with the refinement of the vacation experience—increasingly pursued to relieve the pressures of urban workaday life. Painters who both reflected the new aesthetic standards and accommodated the vacationing class of patrons were John F. Kensett (1816–1872), Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), Worthington Whittredge (1820–1910), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823–1900), and Jervis McEntee (1828–1891).

(Video) Art History: Thomas Cole & "The Course of Empire"

Somewhat exceptional were Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt, who in a measure extended the heroic landscape ambitions of Cole after his death. Church enjoyed the privilege and distinction of being Cole’s student (1844–46), but supplanted his teacher’s literary and historical conceits with scientific and expeditionary ones. Establishing his reputation with outsize depictions of North American scenic wonders such as Niagara Falls, Church was stirred by the travel accounts and scientific tracts of the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt to journey twice to South America in the 1850s and paint large-scale landscapes of the equatorial Andean regions that encompassed torrid to frigid habitats in a single picture—the Earth in microcosm. The Museum’s ten-foot-wide Heart of the Andes (09.95) is the most ambitious and acclaimed of these works. It was promoted as a single-picture attraction—i.e., set in a dark, windowlike frame draped with curtains and starkly illuminated in an otherwise darkened room—that drew thousands of paying spectators in New York, London, and eight other American cities. Later Church exhibited “full-scale” paintings of the Arctic regions and the Holy Land.

In the Civil War years, Church’s only serious rival was Albert Bierstadt, an émigré who returned to his native Germany to study art at the Düsseldorf Academy. After a stint in Switzerland and Italy, he returned to the U.S. to seize—just as Church had the southern hemisphere—the American West as his artistic frontier. The Museum’s six-by-ten-foot Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (07.123) was the chief product of Bierstadt’s first journey to the Rockies of Wyoming with the government survey expedition of Colonel Frederick W. Lander. The great painting was placed as a deliberate complement and competitor opposite The Heart of the Andes in the art gallery of the Metropolitan Fair in New York in 1864. In another gallery of the fair, the artist mounted a tableau vivant of real Indians recalling those in the foreground of his picture. In 1866, Bierstadt was among the earliest white visitors to Yosemite, and produced many large paintings of that region. He toured many times in the West, as well as in Canada, Alaska, Europe, and the Bahamas, and cultivated a large international clientele. His numerous sales enabled him to build a baronial mansion on the Hudson River at Irvington in 1866, even as Church was beginning his great home overlooking the river at Hudson, New York.

(Video) HRMM Lecture: Women and the Revival of the Hudson River

By the time Church and Bierstadt died, respectively in 1900 and 1902, the Hudson River School had been virtually forgotten. Its fall from grace began about the time of the Centennial. After the Civil War, the aesthetic orientation of the United States shifted from Great Britain, the mother culture, to the Continent, especially France. The appeal of figure painting grew somewhat at the expense of landscape, but the face of landscape painting itself altered with the influence of the softer, more intimate French Barbizon style first adapted to American scenery by George Inness (1825–1894). At first spurned or ignored by critics, Inness gained admiration through the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. By the 1880s, he had become the most highly regarded landscape painter in America and was attracting many followers. The Hudson River School, on the other hand, was increasingly assailed for its scenic and monumental aesthetics, prompting the derogatory label it has worn through its revival in the mid- and later twentieth century.


Avery, Kevin J. “The Hudson River School.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)


Further Reading

Howat, John K., et al. American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. See on MetPublications

Wilton, Andrew, and Tim Barringer. American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880. Exhibition catalogue. London: Tate, 2002.

(Video) Gxxgling Art vid 002 Hudson River School

Additional Essays by Kevin J. Avery

  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Late Eighteenth-Century American Drawings.” (October 2003)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900).” (August 2009)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Nineteenth-Century American Drawings.” (October 2004)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Asher Brown Durand (1796–1886).” (October 2009)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872).” (December 2009)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880).” (August 2009)
  • Avery, Kevin J.. “Thomas Cole (1801–1848).” (August 2009)


What was the Hudson River School quizlet? ›

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area.

What was the subject matter of the Hudson River School of painting? ›

Hudson River School paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration, and settlement. They also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully.

Is the Hudson River School an actual school? ›

The Hudson River School: The Group and Term

The Hudson River School was neither a school nor art movement in the contemporary sense of the term, but a group of landscape painters who began working in the Hudson River Valley of New York State.

What was the Hudson River School and why is it important? ›

The Hudson River School was America's first true artistic fraternity. Its name was coined to identify a group of New York City-based landscape painters that emerged about 1850 under the influence of the English émigré Thomas Cole (1801–1848) and flourished until about the time of the Centennial.

What type of art did the Hudson River School promote? ›

The Hudson River school remained the dominant school of American landscape painting throughout most of the 19th century.

What was the symbol of the Hudson River School? ›

In the foreground stands one of the Hudson River School's famous symbols, in this case a broken tree stump, which Cole called a “memento mori”–a reminder that life is fragile and impermanent; only Nature and the Divine within the Human Soul are eternal.

How did painters decide on subject matter? ›

To determine subject matter in a particular piece of art, ask yourself: What is actually depicted in this artwork? What is the artist trying to express to the world... what is his or her message? And how are they conveying that message?

What impact did the Hudson River School have on the world of art? ›

The Hudson River School paintings inspired a reverence for nature and influenced generations of artists, including Hudson River School elites like Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Samuel Colman, and Jasper Cropsey.

What does the Hudson River School reflect about westward expansion? ›

The second generation of Hudson River School painters left the New York area to explore the American frontiers. Their painting documented westward expansion and reinforced the concept of Manifest Destiny.

What is Transcendentalism art? ›

Artists carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual.

Why is landscape art popular? ›

Several factors converged during the nineteenth century to broaden the appeal of landscape art. Most noticeable among them was urban growth, which increasingly separated Americans from rural scenes and activities, fostering a nostalgic desire to reconnect with nature.

Are Hudson WI schools good? ›

Hudson School District is a highly rated, public school district located in HUDSON, WI. It has 5,404 students in grades PK, K-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1. According to state test scores, 59% of students are at least proficient in math and 56% in reading.

What makes the Hudson river so special? ›

Today the Hudson River is one of the healthiest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast. Its rich history and striking environmental recovery have made it one of the nation's fourteen American Heritage Rivers.

Why is the Hudson river famous? ›

The river opened trade routes north to Canada and west to the Great Lakes. Until the Mississippi Valley was settled two centuries later, the Hudson was America's most prominent, and profitable, waterway with a prodigious history of commerce, transportation, culture, and recreation well before European settlement.

What makes the Hudson river unique? ›

Because the Hudson River is a tidal estuary, meaning it ebbs and flows with the ocean tide, it supports a biologically rich environment, making it an important ecosystem for various species of aquatic life.

How many artists were in the Hudson River School? ›

At first, 814 members paid $5 a piece to join the union; a decade later, there were 19,000 members and $40,000 in payments to artists in a single year. One of these artists was the landscape painter, Thomas Cole. Cole had no formal training as an artist. He could not draw a likeness, or any real figure for that matter.

What did the paintings produced by students from the Hudson River School reflect? ›

What did the paintings produced by students from the Hudson River school reflect? the feeling of national pride in American and an appreciation of landscapes.

Who were the artist in the Hudson River School? ›

Hudson River School

How did the Hudson River School end? ›

In keeping with the tenets of Romanticism, these artists saw the natural American environment as a source for divine expressions. By the end of the nineteenth century, interest in the Hudson River School declined, and the new paintings were considered old-fashioned.

Why do they call it the Hudson River? ›

Although Henry Hudson failed to accomplish his primary mission and find the quickest passage to Asia, he always will be remembered as a great navigator, and the river was officially named after him in the mid-1600s.

What is the history of the Hudson River? ›

The river was known to the Mahican (Mohican) Indians as Muhheakunnuk (“Great Waters Constantly in Motion”). The Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazano sailed a short distance upstream in 1524, but the river came to bear the name of the Englishman Henry Hudson, who explored it in 1609.

What are 5 possible subject matters in art? ›

The most common subjects of art include people (portraiture), arrangements of objects (still-life), the natural world (landscape), and abstractions (non-objective).

Does subject of art matter explain your answer? ›

It's important to understand the subject matter of a piece of art to understand the meaning of the piece of art overall. No matter what media is used to create a piece of art, it should have an identifiable subject matter.

Why is it important to consider the materials before choosing a subject in sculpture *? ›

In choosing a subject for sculpture, the most important thing to consider is the material. Substances available for sculpture are limitless. Some of the earlier sculptures are made from bone or wood. Different materials required different methods of handling.

Did Henry Hudson have a positive or negative impact? ›

Hudson's discovery of the Hudson Bay in Canada also helped spark Europeans' increased interests in colonization in North America. Not only did Hudson's discovery lead to an increased interest in European colonization, but they also led to an increased interest in trade with Native Americans.

How did the Hudson River play an important role in early American history? ›

While it did not provide the Europeans with their desired connection to the Pacific, the river opened trade routes north to Canada and west to the Great Lakes. Until the Mississippi Valley was settled two centuries later, the Hudson was America's most prominent, and profitable, waterway.

How did the artists of the Hudson River School contribute to American nationalism? ›

By recognizing the value and beauty of America through art, the Hudson River School painters allowed for a wider appreciation of America itself, and a stronger sense of nationalism throughout the entire country.

What were the benefits positive things about westward expansion? ›

The opportunity to work in the cattle industry; to be a “cowboy” Faster travel to the West by railroad; availability of supplies due to the railroad. The opportunity to own land cheaply under the Homestead Act. The discovery of wheat strains adapted to grow in the climate of the Plains.

What is the effect on the environment in the Hudson River? ›

Other ongoing pollution problems affecting the river include: accidental sewage discharges, urban runoff, heavy metals, furans, dioxin, pesticides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Numerous factories that once lined the Hudson River poured garbage and industrial waste directly into the river.

What was one positive thing about the and westward expansion? ›

One of the positive effects of westward expansion was linking together people on both sides of the country. While California became a state in 1850, at the time it was tremendously difficult to get from the east cost to this area, requiring a trip over the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains that could take months.

Does transcendentalist believe in God? ›

Transcendentalists advocated the idea of a personal knowledge of God, believing that no intermediary was needed for spiritual insight. They embraced idealism, focusing on nature and opposing materialism.

What are 3 transcendentalist beliefs? ›

The transcendentalist movement encompassed many beliefs, but these all fit into their three main values of individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature.

What is the main theme of transcendentalism? ›

Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in New England. A core belief is in the inherent goodness of people and nature, and while society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent.

What does still life mean in art? ›

The term “still life” describes a work of art that shows inanimate objects from the natural or man-made world, such as fruit, flowers, dead game, and/or vessels like baskets or bowls. Looked at another way: still lifes depict things that are “still” and don't move.

What are the reasons of painting? ›

Therapeutic Benefits – Painting is incredibly relaxing and can help reduce your stress levels. While painting, you'll be able to focus specifically on what you are creating and let everything else go. This has a similar effect on your body as meditation.

What is the most famous school in New Jersey? ›

Here are the best colleges in New Jersey
  • Princeton University.
  • Rutgers University--New Brunswick.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology.
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology.
  • Rutgers University--Newark.
  • Rutgers University--Camden.
  • Seton Hall University.
  • Montclair State University.

What is the number one public school in NJ? ›

Top School Districts in New Jersey, 2020
RankSchool DistrictCity
1Ridgewood Public School DistrictRidgewood
2Livingston Board Of Education School DistrictLivingston
3Millburn Township School DistrictMillburn
4Westfield Public School DistrictWestfield
46 more rows

What is the number one private school in Wisconsin? ›

The best top ranked private schools in Wisconsin include Brookfield Academy, Catholic Central High School and Institute Of Technology And Academics. The average acceptance rate is 95% (view national acceptance rates).

Is the Hudson River clean or dirty? ›

Every New Yorker knows that while the Hudson is likely at least slightly cleaner than the East River (and certainly cleaner than the Gowanus Canal), it's by no means recommended for swimming or drinking.

Can you drink from the Hudson River? ›

Seven communities and over 100,000 people rely on drinking water from the Hudson River. Riverkeeper helped these seven communities — the City of Poughkeepsie, Village of Rhinebeck and the Towns of Esopus, Hyde Park, Lloyd, Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck — organize as the Hudson River Drinking Water Intermunicipal Council.

Why can't u swim in the Hudson River? ›

Don't Swim in Active Dredge Areas

People shouldn't swim, boat or recreate in these areas because of safety concerns from boat traffic and operating equipment. PCB levels in the river water might also be higher when dredging and debris removal equipment are operating in these areas.

Who named New York City? ›

The settlement was named New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam) in 1626 and was chartered as a city in 1653. The city came under English control in 1664 and was renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York.

What happened in the Hudson River? ›

Unable to reach any airport for an emergency landing due to their low altitude, pilots Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. All 155 people on board were rescued by nearby boats, with only a few serious injuries.

Can you swim in the Hudson River? ›

Yes, people swim in the Hudson River, and in great numbers. They also wade and splash at the water's edge.

What is the deepest river in the world? ›

The Congo is the deepest river in the world. Its headwaters are in the north-east of Zambia, between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa (Malawi), 1760 metres above sea level; it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Is Hudson River fresh water? ›

The Hudson is really two rivers: a freshwater river that starts in the Adirondacks and flows south to Troy, New York where it spills over the Federal Dam and a tidal estuary between Troy and New York City flowing both north and south, and rising and falling with the ocean's tides.

Who created the Hudson River School? ›

The British-born painter Thomas Cole is widely acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School, having hiked high into the Catskill Mountains of New York State to paint the first landscapes of the region in 1825.

What was the Hudson River School Apush? ›

The Hudson River school was the US' independent art movement. It was a romantic style of painting that portrayed North American nature and landscapes. It helped to establish the idea of the divinity of nature. The style reflects the ideas of discovery, exploration, and settlement.

What did the Hudson River School inspire? ›

The Hudson River School paintings inspired a reverence for nature and influenced generations of artists, including Hudson River School elites like Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Samuel Colman, and Jasper Cropsey.

Who founded the Hudson River School in the United States in the 1830s? ›

Founded by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the Hudson River School was the first American artist colony. Cole was a landscape painter who lived overlooking the Hudson River in New York.

Who were the Hudson River School artists? ›

Hudson River School

What was the goal of Hudson? ›

Henry Hudson was an English navigator and explorer who set out to find either a northeast passage “by the North Pole to Japan and China” or a similar northwest passage. Though neither passage was found, his attempts contributed significantly to the navigational geography of North America.

What was the Hudson strategy? ›

The British Army meticulously develops a strategy for defeating the rebellious colonies, which centers upon dividing the northern and southern colonies by occupying New York City and taking control of the Hudson River Valley.

What were the artists of the Hudson River School influenced by? ›

The Hudson River School painters were led by the belief that nature, in the form of the American landscape, was a Godly manifestation, although their religious convictions differed. The inspiration was drawn from the works of European masters such as John Constable, Claude Lorrain, and J.M.W.

What were the effects of the Hudson River School? ›

Legacy of the Hudson River School

After World War I, the style saw a slight revival when the country was undergoing a period of extreme national pride. Today, the Hudson River School is recognized for its importance in developing a native art culture in America.

How did the Hudson river play an important role in early American history? ›

While it did not provide the Europeans with their desired connection to the Pacific, the river opened trade routes north to Canada and west to the Great Lakes. Until the Mississippi Valley was settled two centuries later, the Hudson was America's most prominent, and profitable, waterway.

Why was the Hudson River important in the 1800s? ›

The river opened trade routes north to Canada and west to the Great Lakes. Until the Mississippi Valley was settled two centuries later, the Hudson was America's most prominent, and profitable, waterway with a prodigious history of commerce, transportation, culture, and recreation well before European settlement.

What names was the Hudson River known by before? ›

Before the 16th century, when only Native American tribes inhabited what is now the USA, the Hudson River was called Mahicantuck, which means "the river that flows two ways." This name was from a Native American tribe called the Lenape, who populated the area around the lowest part of the Hudson River.


1. Anne Connor Lectures March 10 From Romanticism to Realism: Hudson River School- The First Generation
2. Explore Olana, Home of 19th Century Artist Frederic Church
(Darien Library)
3. In the Founders' Footsteps Landmarks of the American Revolution with Adam Van Doren - GSMT
4. History of Rowing in Hudson Valley
5. Modernist art in North America
(Mary McConnell)
6. The Ballinglen Museum of Art - Conversations Between Artists - David Brewster and Peter Brooke
(The Ballinglen Arts Foundation)
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