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A taste for the landscape

 Within that boisterous artistic period that was the American 19th century, no tendency or movement is more interesting and suggestive than the Hudson River School. The painters of this school gave a radical turn to the developing of landscape painting, making the landscape no longer a mere foreground for a composition, and turning it into the authentic reason and protagonist of the picture. But there is more, much more of which to speak. In this small essay we are going to try to discover some less evident aspects of this sensational artistic period.

There is much to say about the artists who may have influenced this movement. Some of them are quite evident, such as the late Baroque landscape painters -Meindert Hobbema, Claude Lorrain- in works by Cole or Durand. More complex, but maybe even more important, is the influence of the greatest American writers of that time, like Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau, with his writings aimed to proclaim the American cultural independence to Europe. We will study this complex influence in later chapters. Also, it is necessary to mention pioneers of the American landscape Art, like George Catlin or Thomas Doughty.

About the influence that this movement had in the immediately later American Art -symbolism, luminism and American impressionism- there is a lot to say. It has been said quite often – and it is difficult not to fall in the temptation of saying it again- that the influence that the painters of the Hudson River School had on American impressionism is similar to what the Barbizon School had on French impressionism. This is not so simple, at least in my opinion. First of all, American impressionism is a much more “heterodox” movement – and generally less studied- than its French homonymous: whereas many American artists simply copied the intentions and techniques of his European contemporaries, some -such as Winslow Homer- even approached impressionism before Monet, Renoir and their colleagues. In addition, American landscape painting entails very complex political and even spiritual connotations that difference it from French painting. In any case, the influence of the Hudson River School in the works of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Blakelock or Winslow Homer is undeniable.

THE PROTAGONISTS

THOMAS COLE (1801-1858) is known as the founder of the Hudson River School. Born in Britain, his family emigrated to America when he was only 17 years old, so we can consider him a totally American painter. Cole discovered the beauty of the Hudson River in 1825, after emigrating to New York, and began to create his first outdoors sketches. Here he paints some of his more famous works, like “The falls of Kaaterskill”(Warner Collection). His love for the American landscape was so strong that, after travelling to Europe- he found the landscape of the Old Continent cold and desolated. At the end of his life he settled down in the Catskills, where he painted the series of “The Voyage of the life”.

ASHER BROWN DURAND (1796-1886), although older than Cole, introduced himself in the landscape painting after knowing the works of the previous master. More romantic and less faithful to the reality than Cole, his works are, nevertheless, more beautiful and poetic, with clear influences of masters like Meindert Hobbema or Claude Lorrain. He is the author of works such as “Kindred Spirits” or “The beeches”.