College Welcomes a National Treasure

Exhibition showcases masterworks of Hudson River School artists

In October 1825, Thomas Cole, a young, unknown artist, boarded a Hudson River steamboat at the New York City docks and traveled about 100 miles north to the village of Catskill, where he hiked into the mountains to sketch.

Upon his return the following month, he produced from his sketches three large landscape oil paintings of the Catskill wilderness that caught the attention of the New York art scene and launched an American art movement.

Selected masterworks of Cole and 11 other artists of the Hudson River School are being showcased this fall in the Leonard and Mildred Rothman Gallery of the Phillips Museum of Art in F&M’s Steinman College Center. “The Hudson River to Niagara Falls: 19th-Century American Landscape Paintings from the New-York Historical Society” opened Sept. 12 and runs through Dec. 15. The exhibition’s sponsors are Jennifer M. and Mark S. Kuhn ’85 and the Thomas A. and Georgina T. Russo Family Foundation.

Photo by Melissa Hess

Photo by Melissa Hess

This is the first time the exhibition has been shown outside of New York. It comprises 24 paintings produced between 1818 and 1890, portraying landscapes, historic sites and natural wonders of the Empire State—from the Hudson River, to the Catskill and Adirondack mountains, to Niagara Falls on the western boundary of the state.

The paintings are drawn from the venerable collection of the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan, the oldest museum in New York, which has organized the exhibition. It is part of the “Sharing a National Treasure Program,” said Linda Ferber, vice president and senior art historian of the 209-year-old society.

“This is the first of our traveling shows to visit a campus outside of New York State, [and] we are especially delighted to share these important paintings with the Phillips Museum at Franklin & Marshall College,” Ferber said. “One of the goals of ‘Sharing a National Treasure’ is to bring important exhibitions to college and university museums where they can provide rich teaching opportunities, whether lectures, symposia or, best of all, courses organized around their content.”

Louisa Davis Minot (1788-1858), Niagara Falls, 1818, Oil on canvas, Collection of the New-York Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Sr., to the Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Jr., Collection, 1956.4

Louisa Davis Minot (1788-1858), Niagara Falls, 1818, Oil on canvas, Collection of the New-York Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Sr., to the Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Jr., Collection, 1956.4

David Schuyler, F&M’s Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies, is incorporating the exhibition into his foundations course, “Rivers and Regions,” and his “American Landscape” class. Michael Clapper, associate professor of art history, will use it in his “American Art” class. Louise Stevenson, professor of history and American studies, and Alison Kibler, associate professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies, will include it in their “American Studies Senior Seminar.” Fourteen other classes also plan to use the exhibition in their coursework.

The landscapes reflect themes of discovery, exploration and settlement, and people are depicted comparatively small against the enormity of the nature around them. Among the paintings to be displayed are Cole’s “Sunset View on the Catskill,” from 1833, and Asher B. Durand’s “View of the Shandaken Mountains,” from 1853. These two painters and their works were critical to the movement’s growth, said Schuyler, author of the 2012 award-winning book “Sanctified Landscape: Writers, Artists and the Hudson River Valley, 1820–1909.”

A deeply spiritual man who saw divinity reflected in nature, Cole emigrated in 1818 from England at age 17. He was an itinerant portrait artist in cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before journeying up the Hudson River and into American cultural history. Durand, one of three patrons who purchased the landscapes Cole had completed upon returning from the Catskill Mountains in 1825, was an engraver. However, by the 1830s he had become a landscape artist. His detail in trees and rocks helped define Hudson River School painting. He would go on to mentor other painters.

Schuyler said the phrase “Hudson River School” was never used by the artists. It was a term coined by an art critic in the 1870s to denounce the paintings as old-fashioned. The artists viewed themselves as landscapists, and they used their paintings as testaments to the importance of appreciating and preserving nature, Schuyler said.

“They were united by a shared interest in exploring the American landscape, and it all started with the Hudson Valley,” he said. “Here we find not just the first truly American expression in art, but the seeds of the conservation movement of the late 19th century, and of environmentalism in our own time.”

David Schuyler (left), F&M’s Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies, discusses the Hudson River School masterworks on the exhibition’s opening night with (l–r) exhibition sponsors Georgina T. and Thomas A. Russo, and Nancy Siegel ’88, associate professor of art history at Towson University.

David Schuyler (left), F&M’s Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies, discusses the Hudson River School masterworks on the exhibition’s opening night with (l–r) exhibition sponsors Georgina T. and Thomas A. Russo, and Nancy Siegel ’88, associate professor of art history at Towson University.

Teri Edelstein, consulting director of the Phillips Museum of Art, praised Eliza Reilly, retired director of the museum, and Schuyler for making the exhibition possible at F&M.

The exhibition opened with Ferber visiting campus to deliver a lecture, “The Hudson River to Niagara Falls: Landscape Views & Landscape Visions.” F&M alumna Nancy Siegel ’88, associate professor of art history at Towson University, delivered a lecture at Homecoming & Family Weekend titled “Suspend Your Body from the Limbs of the Trees: 19th-Century Women Paint the American Landscape.”

Included in the exhibition are works by two of the few women in the Hudson River School, “Pool in the Catskills” by Josephine Walters, the only woman known to have studied with Durand, and “Niagara Falls,” Louisa Davis Minot’s 1818 visual record of her visit to the landmark three years earlier.

A panel discussion, “Looking at Landscapes,” will take place at 2 p.m. Nov. 2 in the Phillips Museum’s Sally Mather Gibson Curriculum Gallery. It will feature three historians talking about specific painters and their works: Clapper on Durand’s “View of the Shandaken Mountains”; Thomas Ryan, president and CEO of LancasterHistory.org, on Jacob Eichholtz’s “Portrait of Serena Mayer Franklin” (a masterpiece in the permanent collection of the Phillips Museum); and Schuyler on Jervis McEntee’s “View in Central Park, N.Y.C,” which relates to Schuyler’s work on Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of Central Park.

The museum’s Nissley Gallery features related works from a private collection including McEntee’s “Grey Day in Hill Country” and “Autumn in the Catskills,” and “View in the Catskills” by T. Addison Richards. The Dana Gallery contains a special installation of landscapes from the museum’s holdings titled “The Lay of the Land: Visions of America 1860-2013,” organized by Judith Stapleton ’12.

The integration of the museum with the F&M curriculum is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Guided tours of the Hudson River exhibition will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 15 and Nov. 19.


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