History Painting

Usually large in scale, history paintings depict events from the imaginary or ancient past that have deep human significance and convey moral lessons to contemporary viewers. Once considered the most noble of the genres of painting, history painting requires that the artist render complex, multifigural compositions filled with convincing, heroic human forms. Cole's The Course of Empire: Consummation (1835-36) is the artist's most ambitious attempt to capture the scope of history painting within the landscape genre.


Hudson River Portfolio

In the summer of 1820 the Irish-born artist William Guy Wall (1792–after 1864) went on an extended sketching tour of the Hudson River Valley and its environs. Master printmaker John Hill (1770–1850) engraved Wall's watercolors for The Hudson River Portfolio, which was published by Henry J. Megarey between 1821 and 1825. Long considered a cornerstone in the development of American printmaking and landscape painting, the Portfolio's twenty topographical views, with accompanying descriptive texts, follow almost the entire course of the Hudson River. The first series of prints to make Americans aware of the beauty and sublimity of their own scenery, the seminal Portfolio helped to stimulate national pride and cultural identity. Wall is often seen as a forerunner of the Hudson River School. See Wall, View Near Hudson (1820).

Hudson River School

A group of mid- to late-nineteenth-century American landscape painters, including artists such as Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Francis Cropsey, George Inness, Sanford Gifford, Charles Herbert Moore, and others. The term "Hudson River School" was first coined around 1879, possibly by the art critic Clarence Cooke. The name initially referred to the members of the National Academy of Design, who lived and painted in the Hudson River Valley; eventually the "Hudson River School" came to encompass nearly all nineteenth-century American landscape painters who worked in the East.

Hudson River School painters favored a highly illusionistic style of carefully rendered, crisply defined forms. They studied both nature and previous art to achieve precise effects of light and atmosphere, and they excelled at rendering rocks, trees, skies and bodies of water. Unlike European contemporaries such as J.M.W. Turner, they avoided painterly flourishes that called attention to artistic technique. This has led some critics to judge the Hudson River School as less adventurous than other landscape traditions in the nineteenth century, but stylistic differences emerged out of a specifically American social and intellectual context. American artists' reliance on print sources for their models may have given rise to a crisp linearity. A deeper explanation derives from the artists' belief that nature was an arena of revealed divinity. Stylistic innovation and bravura technique violated their sense of appropriate humility before, in Cole's words, nature's "purer love divine."