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Different Views in Hudson River School Painting

By Judith Hansen O'Toole

Columbia University Press in association with the Westmoreland Museum of American Art of Greensburg, PA, 160 pp., 2006, $35

Babcock Galleries

724 Fifth Avenue, New York

November 2, 2006 to February 1, 2007

"Cold Spring on Hudson" by Lawrie

"Cold Springs on Hudson," by Alexander Lawrie, oil on canvas, 10 1/4 by 20 1/4, 1871

By Carter B. Horsley

Art collectors tend to focus on "big" names and in the Hudson River School of landscape painting in 19th Century America there were quite a few: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), John F. Kensett (1818-1872), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Frederic E. Church (1826-1900).

The depth of talent in the Hudson River School, however, is remarkable and there are many lesser-known artists who produced marvelous works. The "second-tier" of artists includes such painters as John William Casilear (1811-1893), Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897), James McDougal Hart (1828-1901) and his brother, William (1823-1894), David Johnson (1827-1908), Jervis McEntee (1828-1891), Samuel Colman (1822-1920), Thomas Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), and William Trost Richards (1833-1905).

A "third-tier" would probably include Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908), Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), Regis Gignoux (1816-1882), John Herman Carmiencke (1810-1867), James Suydam (1819-1865).

A "fourth-tier" group might include John Bristol, James Suydam, Clinton Loveridge (1824-1902), Russell Smith (1812-1896), Albert Fitch Bellows (1829-1883), William Richarby Miller (1818-1893), Alexander Lawrie (1828-1917), Eliza Greatorex (1820-1897), DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1820-1884), Charles H. Chapin (1830-1889), Henry Boese (1824-1863), William Sanford Mason (1828-1898), James Fairman (1826-1904), Hermann Fueschel, (1833-1915), Frederick Rondel (1826-1892), Thomas Prichard Rossiter (1818-1871), Herman Herzog, 1832-1932), Joseph Antonio Hekking (1830-1903), James Brade Sword (1839-1915), Edward Darch Lewis (1835-1910), Richard William Hubbard (1816-1888), Charlkes W. Knapp (1823-1900), and Arthur Parton (1842-1914).

All these artists and more are included in a fine new book entitled "Different Visions in Hudson River School Painting," by Judith Hansen O'Toole (Columbia University Press in association with Westmoreland College, 2006, pp. , $35). The book, which was accompanied by a fine exhibition at The Babcock Gallery at 724 Fifth Avenue from November 6, 2006 to February 1, 2007, includes 120 excellent color illustrations of paintings by 60 artists, an impressive, albeit not encyclopedic, selection of works from a private collection. Some big names are missing in this book such as George Inness, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, Alexander Wyant, Robert Duncanson, William Haseltine, William Sonntag, John Williamson, and Thomas Doughty, but they were included in an earlier book, "All That is Glorious Around Us, Paintings From The Hudson River School," by John Driscoll, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1997, pp. 144, 75 illustrations (see The City Review article), that included works by about 40 artists from the same collection.

The private collection that is the basis of the two books now contains about 350 Hudson River School paintings and what is extremely impressive is that the vast majority of the works will not be familiar to the vast majority of collectors and that they are of uniformly high quality. While not all the paintings in the collections are major masterpieces, the vast majority of them are real jewels, representative of the best qualities of the artists. The collection therefore must rank with the finest in the country and their existence has been pretty much a secret. The paintings are in superb condition and they are excellently framed.

In her acknowledgments, Judith Hansen O'Toole, the director of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, has noted that the collection was exhibited previously, in 1978, at the Palmer Museum of Art (then the Museum of Art at the University of Pennsylvania) and that the accompanying catalogue, printed in a small edition and long out-of-print, then was written by John Driscoll. Mr. Driscoll, who is now the director of the Babcock Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York, rewrote the catalogue, which was expanded to accommodate new acquisitions as well as new research since the original exhibition.

The result was undoubtedly the finest introduction to the Hudson River School painters as Driscoll's introduction was a brilliant synopsis of the historical and artistic context and his individual essays on the artists and paintings were richly informative and incisive.

There were probably a 1,000 or so quite competent and worthy 19th Century American artists, an impressive number especially since only a half-century ago most connoisseurs would have been hard-pressed to name a hundred! Such a list, of course, includes genre painters, Impressionist painters, Western painters, Tonalist painters and American Renaissance painters.

In his preface to O'Tool's book, Mr. Driscoll maintains that "No other similar collection combining both masterworks and exemplary paintings so thoroughly and comprenhesively explores the moment and history aof American visual culture of the Hudson River School era," adding that "Given its scope and qulaity it is a treasure trove that recommends itself as a national treasure."

The first exhibition of this anonymous private collection was held in 1978 at the University of Art at the Pennsylvania Sate University, whihc is now known as the Palmer Museum. Mr. Driscoll wrote the catalogue for that show and 18 years wrote another for the exhibition accompanying his book and that show traveled to 18 venues. "O'Toole," Mr. Driscoll wrote in his preface to the new book, "has sensitively selected the current exhibition and elucidated a range of comparisons and contrasts that enhance understanding of the achievements of thought and art implicit in Hudson River School landscape paintings. The collection's vast array of representative paintings tantalize and suggest associations of mind and eye between the paintings and the artist who create them, between ideas and concepts that might not otherwise surface from a smaller seclection of pictures, between images and themes that are ever renewed in the experence of generations of scholars and viewers."

"This exhibition of Hudson River School artists," Ms. O'Toole wrote, "focuses on their frequent creation of and reliance on pairs and series of paintings to express central or recurrent themes of great significance to the movement. The underlying purpose of grouping paintings this way is to enable contemporary viwers to appreciate more readily the nineteenth-century artist's ideas and objejectives through active engagement in the comparisons and contrasts delineated in these pairings....This is the first study to concentrate on illuminating the particular practice of Hudson River School artists to create pairs, series, and groups of paintings that are thematically related....What has virtually escaped modern critical attention is that widespread production of paired paintings by artists of the Hudson River School indicated a response by these artists not only to their own impulses but also to public demand. Paired paintings became very popular and very much sought after, which hleps explain why so many individual artists painted pairs on more than one occasion."

"Woodland Interior" by Durand

"Woodland Interior," by Asher B. Durand, oil on canvas, 20 by 16 inches, circa 1855

In discussing Asher B. Durand's superb "Woodland Interior," O'Toole remarks that "To Durand, Cole, Church, Kensett, Casilear, David Johnson, and others, trees were fascinating living objects of nature, imbued with individual character demanding close study." "In the late 1840s and early 1850s," she continued, "Durand produced numerous forest interiors resembling this one. He often paired his trees, as here, so that he could more readily compare and contrast their features and the different shades of green in their leaves. He delighted in showing their rough surfaces covered with lichen and moss. Their inherent nobility and grandeur were eloquently conveyed through his artistic mastery. The feeling of being in the wilderness is so realistically conveyed here that the viewer can almost smell the peat moss, the decaying trees, and other odors associated with the forest interior."

"A Lake Twilight" by Gifford

"A Lake Twilight" by Sanford Robinson Gifford, oil on canvas, 16 by 28 inches, 1861

One of the collection's major works is "A Lake Twilight" by Sanford Robinson Gifford. It was painted in 1861 and O'Toole observes that the Civil War had "violently disrupted the peace and optimism of the New World" and "Just one year earlier, Frederic Church created his tour de force Twilight in the Wilderness. In that context, this painting probably represents Gifford's response to the earlier work. Though less bloodthirsty in its dramatic use of color and light than Church's painting, A Lake Twilight still smolders with tension and hostility. Light and dark are contrasted throughout the composition: in the maple trees' bright red foliage against the dark green of pines in the orange and blue bands of cloud and sky; in the bright white shirt of a hunter against the dark surface of the water. The pioneer struggles to remove a deer carcass from his boat, emphasizing the conflict between man and nature. Furthering this tension, the setting sun pulls in the opposite direction from the hunter, lighting the underside of clouds that skirt the uppermost part of the canvas.....Powerful, emotive, and celebratory of the awesome beauty of nature, Gifford's A Lake Twilight is a sublime acknowledgment of man's inevitable, relentless struggles aginast one another, against nature, and against the cycles of life over which man has little control. Yet, as in many masterpieces of American luminism, a nearly, palpable stillness and hush pervade the wilderness scene."

"Genesee River Scenery" by Casilear

"Genesee River Scenery," by John William Casilear, oil on canvas 9 1/2 by 20 inches, 1873

John William Casilear was a major member of the Hudson River School although his works are relatively rare. "Genesee River Scenery," a 9 1/2-by-20-inch oil executed in 1873, is one of his masterpieces. "Casilear's earlier training as an engraver is recalled through his use of a narrow color range, close observation, and careful rendering of natural detail. The special quality of pleasing, gentle light that was his hallmark has a Claudian stillness to it," O'Toole wrote.

"Conversation by the River" by James Hart

"Conversation by the River," by James McDougal Hart, oil on canvas, 15 by 10 inches

"Conversation by the River" by James McDougal Hart is part of a pair by the artist that O'Toole maintains "realizes the potential sought by artists who created pairs and series in order to communicate themes and ideas." "Although each on its own is complete and remarkable," she continued," together they resonate, enriching one another thematically in a lively dialogue replete with comparisons and contrasts. In a modestly sized pair of paintings, Hart has produced a purposeful juxtapostion of a sublime theme with a beautiful landscape to achieve the full impact of such a comparison. "Mountain Falls" protrays a turbulent, wild view of a rugged mountain waterfall....When the paintings are positioned side by side, ther rushing falls in this composition flow directly to meet the contrasting calm, mirrored surface of a river running through Conversation by the River. Energy and movement characteristic of the first are countered and balanced by harmony and quietude in the second....In this particular scene, the women seem to represent harmonious coexistence with nature, as opposed to the fierce, uninhabitable, unaccommodating wilderness delineated in the companion view."

"Rainbow on the Hudson" by Colman

"Rainbow on the Hudson" by Samuel Colman, oil on canvas, 12 by 20 inches

Samuel Colman is a major member of the Hudson River School who traveled widely. "Rainbow on the Hudson" is one of his finest works.

"Landscape near Cragsmoor, NY" by Greatorex

"Landscape near Cragsmoor, N.Y.," by Eliza Greatorex, oil on canvas, 15 by 25 inches, 1863

"Elizabeth Greatorex's Landscape Near Cragsmoor, NY, 1863," O'Toole noted, "provides little evidence of the turmoil of the times, or of the artist's own personal circumstances, having been widowed and left with two young daughters five years earlier by her musician husband. An artist of great achievement, including being the first woman elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design, her works shows a sophisticated romanticism with effortless, confident brushwork. The influence of her teacher, James Hart, is apparent. Unfluring across her painting of Cragsmoor is the tranquility associated with safe harbor. The low skyline is broken only by the boughs of a tall and broad tree, opening its foliage like a fan to shelter a group of cows reposing in the alternating sun and shade of a rough meadow. The roof of a cottage barely breaks the horizon line, resting low, as does the earth, in Greatorex's peaceful scene."

"Saranac Lake, Morning" by Homer Dodge Martin

"Saranac Lake, Morning," by Homer Dodge Martin, oil on canvas, 18 by 32 inches, 1857

Several major Hudson River School artists, such as George Inness, Alexander Wyant and Homer Dodge Martin, would significantly change their painting style late in their careers. Martin would eventually become quite impressionistic and his "Harp of the Winds" is one of the world's great Impressionist works, even more lyrical than Monet's series of poplars.

Homer Dodge Martin is represented by a pair of paintings of Saranac Lake, one in the morning and one in the evening, both 18 by 32 inches and executed in 1857.

"In two evocative canvases," O'Toole observed, "one of morning and one of evening along the shore of saranac Lake, Homer Dodge Martin demonstrates his remarkable ability to render in paint the elusive, intangible effects of light. Martin assimilated the Hudson River School aesthetic through his contact with John Kensett, from whom he learned to be a close, accurate observer of nature. Painted when Martin was just twenty-one years old, these canvases already show the strength of his mature work in the effective marriage of naturalistic detail and atmospheric illusion. shying away from the more dramatic effects of color and light that could be associated with dawn and dusk, Martin chooses moments of serenity and quiet introspection, revealed through subtle modulations of tone. In neither painting is the direct source of light - the sun- seen, but its effects are obliquely observed."

"Cows Watering in a Summer Landscape" by Fuechsel

"Cows Watering in a Summer Landscape," by Hermann Fuechsel, oil on canvas, 10 by 20 inches, circa 1875

One of the loveliest works in the collection is "Cows Watering in a Summer Landscape," by Hermann Fuechsel, who is not particularly famous.

O'Toole provides the following commentary:

"Born and schooled in Germany, Hermann Fuechsel met American painters Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge while studying at the Dusseldorf Acadaemy. Later, after moving to New York, he occupied a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building [see The City Review article], where these three, along with Sanford gifford and other Hudson River School painters, also worked. A narrow range of color and crisp draftsmanship reveal Fuechsel's training and skill as an engraver. Here, a strip of land along the Hudson River serves to contrast the warm, solid colors of autumn against the cool, soft hues of sky and water. Reflections of rust and yellow fall from the land into the river's surface. autumnal colors tint the otherwise pastel-hued mountainside. Two cows stand in shadow at the water's edge, integrated by color and position into their surroundings. They act as man's surrogates in the wilderness, the symbol of nature's domestication yet, at least in this compostion, not a theat to its balance or harmony. Two tall trees, their intricate foliage darkly sihouetted against the light sky, mimic the pair of cows; the intricate branches reach heavenward whereas the animals remain earthbound."

"Kaaterskill and Haines Falls" by Fuechsel

"Kaaterskill and Haines Falls," by Hermann Fuechsel, oil on canvas, 14 3/4 by 12 inches, circa 1865-75

Kaaterskill and Haines Falls are iconic sites for the Hudson River School and attracted not only Thomas Cole and Sanford Gifford, but also Fuechsel and O'Toole described his very fine and idyllic depiction of the falls as "conjuring up a world of innocence and mystery in this eloquent canvas." "Majestic in its progression from dark to light, solid to ephermal, the compostion is divided into three parts. In the lower third, the solid forms of rock cliffs and promontories, separated by Kaaterskill Creek, are painted in rich, dark earth tones. In the middle third, contrasting trees on either side of the creek ....frame the frshing torrent of Haines Falls, softened and subdued in color by diffused early moning sunlight. The upper third is devoted to the steep, forested slopes surrouning Kaaterskill Falls, from whose waters diaphanous mists rise to shroud the mountside."

"Spring Landscape with Cows" by Loveridge

"Spring Landscape with Cows," by Clinton Loveridge, oil on canvas, 9 by 14 inches

The exhibition includes three pairs of landscapes by Clinton Loveridge that O'Toole notes reveal "his mastery of spare, simple compositions that create, on an imtimate scale, the vast expansiveness of land, water and sky," adding that "Modest in size, his scenes of the seasons are consistent but not formulaic."

The Hudson River, not surprisingly, is depicted in numerous works and one of the most beautiful is "Cold Springs on Hudson," show at the top of this article, painted in 1871 by Alexander Lawrie (1828-1917). O'Toole observes that the river's "distant mirror-smooth surface is dotted with white sails, indicating pleasure boats," and that "Distant cliffs are lit with a glow from the late afternoon sun, the promise of a smilarly bright and optimistic future."

"Deer" by Chapin

"Deer," by Charles H. Chapin, oil on canvas, 10 1/4 by 20 inches, 1870

A deer is the central focus in a lovely 1870 painting by Charles H. Chapin, another relatively obscure artist. "The clear dark silhouette of the central deer, standing proudly against the bright light of sunset, can be interpreted by symbolizing a final moment in the natural harmony of the American wilderness and the subsequent, inevitable dawning of another stage in the cycle of civilization," O'Toole remarked.

"Ausable Chasm" by Champney

"Ausable Chasm," by Benjamin Champney, oil on canvas, 21 by 17 inches

Benjamin Champney concentrated most of his artistic efforts in norther New England and most of his scenes are very bucolic, but "Ausable Chasm" is a strikingly dramatic composition of the northern New York State attraction.

"Pennypack" by Russell Smith

"Pennypack," by Russell Smith, oil on canvas, 12 by 18 inches, 1880

Russell Smith loved to paint in Pennsylvania and "Pennypack" is a fine example of his soft, dreamy and very romantic style.

"Down to the Brook" by Albert F. Bellows

"Down to the Brook," by Albert Fitch Bellows, oil on canvas, 28 by 47 1/2 inches, 1863

Albert Fitch Bellows is another artist noted for his soft palette and romantic compositions and "Down to the Brook" is a fine example of his work.

"Niagara Falls" by Boutelle

"Niagara Falls," by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, oil on canvas, 12 1/2 by 16 inches, 1861

Niagara Falls was a favorite subject with the Hudson River School even if geographically it was a bit removed. A small but classic view of the great falls was painted by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle in 1861 from a vantage point used in the previous decade by both Robert Walter Weir and Frederic E. Church.

"Niagara Falls" by Hill

"Niagara Falls" by Thomas Hill, oil on canvas, 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, circa 1860

Thomas Hill is best known as one of the major painters of Yosemite but he also did some genre paintings and is represented in this collection by a very dramatic Niagara Falls scene and O'Toole corrected notes that "measuring only 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, Hill's image is one in which drama compacted is thereby intensified."

"American scenery sampler" by Gignoux

"American Scenery Sampler," by Regis Francis Gignoux, oil on canvas, 20 by 36 inches, circa 1861

Some Hudson River Paintings assembled "scenery samplers" such as one superb one in the collection by Regis Francis Gignoux that is rather unusual in that the seven scenes are presented in four different shapes.

"Ruins at Baalbeck" by Church

"Ruins at Baalbeck," by Frederic Church, oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches, 1868

O'Toole compares "Ruins at Baalbeck" by Frederic Church to the final painting in Thomas Cole's great series The Course of Empire and says the reference to Cole is "reinforced by the presence of the single figure in Church's composition - a goatherd, dwarfed and encompassed by both nature and the ruins, shrouded by darkness in the lower right corner." "Easily overlooked at first glance, he nevertheless represents the presence of man in nature. Two types of pipes relate this figure to Cole and Church, the first being the musical pipe that rests behind the figure. The pipes were played both by Pan of ancient myth and by Cole, who loved the flute and other instruments, incorporating them often in his paintings. The other pipe, this one of the smoking kind, the figure holds to his mouth. Church smoked opium to ease the painful arthritis that eventually caused him to cease painting. The goatherd is the long 'observer,' so often depicted in landscape paintings of the Hudson River School: he sits somewhat apart to witness the sunset, the close of civilization, and to serve as a reminder of the survival of man in a state much different from that of his deceased ancestors, who built the glorious empire now lying in ruins."

The only obvious major omissions in the two books published thus far on the collection are George Inness, Thomas Moran and Robert Walter Weir and others who could be included are James A. Suydam, Louis Mignot, William Holbrook Beard, Aaron Shattuck, and Kruseman Van Elten.

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