So many things drove the westward expansion of the 1800s. The lure of a better life. Cheap land. Adventure. The railroad. Art.
Wait a minute. How did art drive the westward expansion?
In the mid-1800s, a new wave hit the artistic community, a desire to show nature in it’s most glorified state. Known as the Hudson River School, this movement focused on dramatic landscapes painted with romanticism and wonderful uses of light and detail to make the subject even more attractive than it might usually appear. It derived its name from the original locales that were painted–such places as the Hudson River Valley, Catskills, Adirondack, and the White Mountains. As the movement grew and inspired a second generation of painters, however, the ladscapes they painted encompassed wilderness areas from as far away as South America and Syria. The themes of the paintings fit so perfectly with the American persona of the time. Themes of discovery, exploration, and settlement. And for a growing number of east coast citizens, the appeal came in viewing untamed lanscapes and idyllic nature scenes so different from the bustling cities to which they had become accustomed.
Thomas Cole is considered by most to be the father of the Hudson River School, but it was his prize pupil, Frederic Edwin Church, who became a true celebrity. Some of the finest works from the Hudson River School were painted between 1855 and 1875, and Church’s works consituted the majority. His paintings are truly stunning. I must admit that I fell in love with them myself. Here are a few of my favorites:
You really have to see larger images to do them justice.
In the 20th century, the term luminism was coined to describe this style. It is characterized by attention to detail and the hiding of brush strokes so that nothing distracts from the vision of nature being depicted. Artists in the Hudson River School for the most part believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was a manifestation of God. Therefore they painted highly realistic yet idealized renderings of what they had seen on their travels.
Often, they visited such dangerous, hard-to-reach places, that they could only carry a sketch book. They depended on these sketches and their memories to reconstruct the images they had seen once they returned to the safety of home.
In my current work in progress, my heroine’s mother was an art teacher back east who was greatly influenced by the Hudson River School. It is her dedication to this style of art that drives her to leave her safe city life to search out her own wilderness to paint. This, of course, eventually leads her to Texas.
What type of art speaks to your heart? I’ve always preferred realist landscapes that capture the glory of God’s creation. That’s probably why these paintings gripped me so completely. What about you? Do you have a painting or print in your house that you just adore? What painting would you buy if money was no object? I’d love to hear about it.