Columbia Museum of Art Presents Exhibition of Hudson River School Paintings

. November 21, 2011 . 0 Comments

Forty-five magnificent paintings from the rich collection of the New-York Historical Society are on view at the Columbia Museum of Art through April 1, 2012 in a major traveling exhibition Nature and the Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters. Though individual works are very seldom loaned, these iconic works of 19th-century landscape painting are traveling on a national tour for the first time and are circulating to four museums around the country as part of the Historical Society’s traveling exhibitions program Sharing a National Treasure. The Columbia Museum of Art is the only stop in the Southeast.

“The Museum is delighted to bring this extraordinary exhibition to Columbia, giving visitors from around the Southeast the opportunity to see incredibly beautiful works by highly skilled painters of the 19th century,” Karen Brosius, executive director, said. “We are grateful to the New-York Historical Society for sharing this superb American collection for the first time and to the Blanchard Family for their leadership gift to bring this beautiful exhibition to our state and community.”

In the early 19th century, the United States was a new nation still in the process of creating its own unique culture and identity. The American landscape, with its vast stretches of wilderness, was unlike anything in the old world. But not many Americans were interested in preserving the country’s wild places; wilderness was something to be feared or exploited. The Hudson River School emerged during the second quarter of the 19th century in New York City. There, a loosely knit group of artists and writers forged the first American landscape vision and literary voice. That American vision — still widely influential today — was grounded in a view of the natural world as a source of spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity. This vision was first expressed through the magnificent scenery of the Hudson River Valley region, including the Catskills, which was accessible to writers, artists and sightseers via traffic on the great river that gave the school its name.

“For apart from the skillfulness and dreaminess of so many of the pictures, the fact that several of them have not been on public display in half a century makes the exhibition even more remarkable.” – The New York Times

The exhibition tells this story in four grand thematic sections. Within these broad groupings, the paintings show how American artists embodied powerful ideas about nature, culture and history.

The American Grand Tour features paintings of the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountain regions celebrated for their scenic beauty and historic sites, as well as views of Lake George, Niagara Falls and the New England countryside. These were the destinations that most powerfully attracted both artists and travelers. The American Grand Tour also includes paintings that memorialize the Hudson River itself as the gateway to the touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.

American Artists A-Field includes works by Hudson River School artists who after 1850 sought inspiration further from home. The paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Martin Johnson Heade show how these globe-trotting painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and thrilled audiences with images of the landscape wonders of such far-flung places as the American frontier, Yosemite Valley and South America.

Dreams of Arcadia: Americans in Italy features wonderful paintings by Thomas Cole, Jasper F. Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford, and others celebrating Italy as the center of the Old World and the principal destination for Americans on the European Grand Tour. Viewed as the storehouse of Western culture, Italy was a living laboratory of the past, with its cities, galleries, and countryside offering a survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity, as well as a striking contrast to the wilderness vistas of North America portrayed by these same artists.

In the final section of the exhibition, Grand Landscape Narratives, all of these ideas converge in Thomas Cole’s five-painting series The Course of Empire (c. 1834-36), imagining the rise of a great civilization from an unspoiled landscape, and the ultimate decay of that civilization into ruins. These celebrated paintings explore the tension between Americans’ deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress. This series has traveled only a handful of times since its completion in 1836.

Nature and the Grand American Vision allows audiences to enjoy and study superb examples of the Historical Society’s unsurpassed collection of Hudson River School paintings while its galleries are closed for a transformative $65 million renovation project.

“Our mission for the Sharing a National Treasure program is to ensure that audiences throughout the United States have access to the great artworks and priceless artifacts of the New-York Historical Society, New York City’s first museum and one of the nation’s oldest collecting institutions,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. “Nowhere is this mission more vital than in the traveling exhibition Nature and the American Vision. This tour keeps in public view some of the most important works of Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, George Inness and many others: the first artists to have created a consciously American tradition of painting.”

Nature and the Grand American Vision traveled to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX earlier this year and is currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Following the Columbia Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. The paintings will then return to their renovated home.

N-YHS Senior Art Historian Dr. Linda S. Ferber, curator of the exhibition, said, “The New-York Historical Society houses one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of landscape paintings by artists of the Hudson River School. We welcome this unique opportunity to share these treasures with a national audience.”

Exhibition presented by the Blanchard Family. Additional sponsors include: BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Kay and John Bachmann, BB&T, City of Forest Acres, Dr. Suzan D. Boyd and Mr. M. Edward Sellers, and Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina, P.A. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. A Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant from The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works has supported glazing of the works in the exhibition.

Category: Art Culture

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