This exhibition includes works by some of the best-known painters of the Hudson River School. These works, despite the geographical diversity of their subject matter, are drawn together by their authors’ attempts to record the wonders of creation and their search to capture the poignant and transient effects of light. Thomas Cole, acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School, famously spoke of “truth to nature,” insisting that the nature depicted in painting be based upon actual study in the field. The untapped pictorial potential of America made it a kind of new Eden, full of wonders to be brought before collectors and the viewing public. Inspired by Cole, American painters took up rucksacks and walking sticks and began to sketch, and even to paint, surrounded by the myriad beauties of the American continent.
The scientific climate of the nineteenth century provides another important context for these pictures. For example, in the same year, 1859, that Darwin published The Origin of Species, painter Frederic Edwin Church steamed off to sketch icebergs in Newfoundland. In this age of burgeoning geological, biological, and anthropological inquiry, art became an increasingly important scientific tool, and the journals of American artists were read avidly in the newspapers as the exploits of great adventurers.
We at the Johnson wish to thank Al Friedman (Cornell Class of 1952) and his wife, Maryann (Vassar College, Class of 1955), for lending these works. We are grateful for their eye as collectors over the past twenty years, and for their grace and generosity, which have made this exhibition possible.
Andrew C. Weislogel
Assistant Curator / Master Teacher