In this zooming age of almost daily technological advances, super fast forms of transportation and rampant commercialization, it is often difficult to imagine a time in America when all was beautiful and scenic – and quite slow-moving, comparatively. That time in our history is gloriously captured in the 45 paintings that will be on display next month at the Columbia Museum of Art. “Nature and The Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters,” will be showing in Columbia from Nov. 19 through April 1, 2012.
“It’s a big hurrah,” explains Allison Horne, public relations manager of the Columbia Museum of Art. “For us to be chosen as a stopping place for this exhibit is a big deal.”
Allison says that Melissa and Joe Blanchard, both local business owners, provided the leadership gift to ensure that The New York Historical Society, where the paintings are typically housed, would select Columbia to show the exhibit. The paintings are stopping at only three other cities – Fort Worth, Texas, Salem, Mass. and Bentonville, Ark. – while their permanent location in New York undergoes a $65 million renovation.
“Melissa is a board member and serves on several museum committees, and she and Joe were also major donors of our last blockbuster exhibition, Turner to Cezanne. They had seen some of the Hudson River paintings and were excited to have the exhibit come here,” says Karen Brosius, the museum’s executive director. “This would not have happened without their support.”
According to Linda S. Ferber, executive vice president and museum director of The New York Historical Society, the Hudson River School was considered a loosely knit group of artists – along with like-minded poets and writers – who garnered attention in the early 19th century in New York. Whereas some considered their art to be old-fashioned and provincial, they were committed to capturing the American landscape in paintings and in words. They viewed the natural world as a source of spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity.
While these artists first focused their attention on the areas around the shores of the Hudson River, named for Henry Hudson whose exploratory voyage took place 400 years ago, some eventually sought inspiration farther from home. Linda explains in her catalog/book of the exhibit that some wanted to paint wilderness experiences in the West, the Arctic and the Andes.
Lake Maggiore, Italy, 1858 Sanford Robinson Gifford (American, 1823-1880) Oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 30 in. The Robert L. Stuart Collection
The paintings serve, she points out, as a visual history. On display will be an oil painting by Andrew Melrose of “New York Harbor and the Battery,” 1885. Viewers will get a glimpse of how New York was beginning to bustle around the river’s edge more than 100 years ago.
Those examining the oil on canvas by George Henry of “Hudson River Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point,” 1855, might marvel at the extensive rolling hills and wilderness. The few people in the foreground of this scene seem to be in no hurry as they stroll along a path.
Those artists who ventured west captured soon-to-be-forgotten scenes, such as that of “Indian Encampment, Shoshone Village,” 1986 by Albert Bierstadt. And several attempted, in their own unique expressions, to convey the majesty and awe of Niagara Falls, before there were hotels and tourist attractions at its edge.
The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836 Thomas Cole (American, 1801-1848)
Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 63 1/4 in. Gift of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts
The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire, 1836, Thomas Cole
(American, 1801-1848) Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 76 in. Gift of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts
There are a few breaks from the scenic paintings. Worthington Whittredge’s “A Window, House on Hudson River,” 1863, offers a glimpse of a nursery scene, in which a servant playfully attends to a baby while sitting in an elaborately veiled window box. John William Hill’s “Erie Canal, N.Y.,” 1831, presents laborers – many in top hats – working diligently.
In order for those visiting the exhibit to truly understand the breadth of American history presented in the paintings, Linda will offer lectures, and she will train the museum’s docents so they can convey as much information as possible about the significance of the artists and their work.
Allison points out that there will be several events surrounding the opening and showing of the exhibit that will target both adults and school children. “The show will have its own special website, and people can get information on the museum’s website,” says Allison. “We’re really focused on lifelong learning.”
Allison says there is sometimes a disconnect between those who are ardent art lovers and those who just enjoy looking at the art. To bridge this gap, the museum is offering educational guides for adults and children so that adults will better understand the exhibit and have the tools to educate their children about it.
Teachers from schools, as well as homeschooling parents, can make arrangements to bring in groups to enjoy the exhibit, learn about the time period, artists and paintings, and then try their hand at the techniques used by the Hudson River School Painters in the museum’s studio.
Allison adds that the exhibit will be advertised statewide through brochures and billboards. Because the paintings are so visually appealing and have so much historical weight, she expects that visitors from surrounding states will also enjoy the exhibit.
“The museum is delighted to bring this extraordinary exhibition to Columbia,” says Karen, “giving visitors from around the Southeast the opportunity to see incredibly beautiful works by highly skilled painters of the 19th century.”
For more information about “Nature and the Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters,” visit www.columbiamuseum.org. Tickets are available for $12, which includes the featured exhibit and the Museum’s collection. Docent-led group tours are available for 10 or more people. Adult group admission is $10 per person, while school group tour admission is $3 per student.