The Hudson River School

March 6, 2014
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm EST Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Alan Wallach
Ralph H. Wark Professor of Art and Art History, Emeritus,
The College of William & Mary

About the Seminar

What cultural forces transformed “wilderness” into “landscape” in early nineteenth century America? In what ways did nineteenth century landscape painters define American identity? How did their work reflect and critique the life of the nation as it became more democratic and industrial, but also as it suffered the divisions that led to the Civil War? This seminar will explore these and related questions by tracing the trajectory of American landscape painting from the 1820s through the 1870s. It will trace the beginnings of the Hudson River School in the work of Thomas Cole, explore its zenith in the works of Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and the artists today known as “Luminists,” and examine the reasons for the school’s decline in the 1870s.

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Assigned Readings

  1. “The Hudson River School in Public,” from American Art to 1900: A Documentary History, by Sarah Burns and John Davis.
  2. Image Set I Thomas Cole and the Origins of the Hudson River School.
  3. Image Set II The Hudson River School.
  4. “On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America,” (1728) by George Berkeley.
  5. “Sonnet--to an American Painter Departing for Europe,” (1829) by William Cullen Bryant.
  6. “Essay on American Scenery,” (1836) by Thomas Cole.
  7. Letter IV from “Letters on Landscape Painting,” (1855) by Asher B. Durand.

Suggested Additional Resources

  1. “The Hudson River School ,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  2. “Explore Thomas Cole,” The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, National Park Service.

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