View Full Version : Hudson River Valley School of Artists-info

08-04-2005, 11:18 PM
Hello all you HRVS enthusiastis :wave:
I have been asked a number of times now about the style of the "Hudson River Valley School" of Artists. So I have decided to do a thread with the information that I have gathered over many years of studying their works.

The "Hudson River Valley School" was not a formal school, but a title given to a group of artists that painted in the area of New York along the river in the early to mid 1800's. It was meant to be a "slight" to the group of artists. For most landscape artists of the time were painting European scenes.

Thomas Cole was the founder, the first artist of the group. Cole had studied the works of european academic landscape artists in London. Painters like Turner. But employed a more pragmatic approach to his paintings. He used much finer layers of paint in his paintings, and like the academicians of the earlier periods, did not want the paint itself, to obtrude on the subject matter, and so he used no distinct painterly style.

Whereas Thomas Moran, another early member of the group, did employ a more conspicuous paint surface, but only to particular areas of a painting - thus making that area of the painting a focal point. Moran was also a big fan of Turner. Which was not the case of most of the other artists in the school.

Cole, was a master of the oil sketch and planned his elaborate paintings using his sketch "notes" from nature which he would do on tours. Cole gave informal lessons to Durand and then formally became the personal atlier to Frederic Church. Church taught Albert Bierstadt, sho was initiallyself taught in the european academic style and then later studied in Germany under Johann Peter Hasenclever from 1810-1853. When he went to America, and met Church, Church taught him the methods of using detailed oil sketches and they both often worked these sketches on paper using a buff, grey, or pink ground.

Church first began his finished paintings by making a detailed drawing in chalk, pencil or charcoal, directly onto the canvas, of which he had already laid in a ground of either traditional earth, or buff, or grey, or even off white, depending on the subject matter of the painting. Moran did the same.

So Thomas Cole, who was raised in England, studied the English landscapes of the earliy 18th century, which were based on the Italian style of painting. ie. colored ground, imprimatura, layers of glazes, and some impasto work as highlights. He then brought that knowledge to America where he taught and worked along side the others that are known as the "Hudson River Valley School of Artists".

There were many artists in that group, and although they all used Coles methodology to capture the "American" landscape scenery, each added his own finesse to their art. Such as Kensett, who began painting almost identically to Cole, but quickly distinguished himself bu using a much cooler palette as in "Reminiscence of the White Mountains of 1852" Or Gifford, who became a master of the luminist method, a technique of mesured applications of short strokes of a half dry brush to build up a hazy network that describes vibrant and luminous air. And as for Bierstadt, he painted in an identical style to Church, his friend, teacher and rival, but Bierstadt preferred a more dramatic use of color and subject. And more contrast and drama.


08-05-2005, 12:18 AM

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life, Youth 1842


Thomas Cole, the Course of the Empire, the Savage State 1836


Frederic Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860


Frederic Church, Niagara Falls, American Side


Asher Duran, High Point, Shandaken Mountains


Asher Duran, The Beaches,1845


Thomas Moran, A Showery Day, Grand Canyon, 1919


Thomas Moran, Cascade Falls, Yosemite


Sanford Gifford, October in the Catskills, 1880


Sanford Gifford, Morning in the Adirondacks, 1867


Albert Bierstadt, The Golden Gate, 1900


Albert Bierstadt, Buffalo Trail, 1869



08-05-2005, 12:24 PM

Thanks so much for this thread (an article, really), on one of my favourite groups of artists. I know a bit of their history, and a bit about some of the criticism they received, but it's difficult to find information on their technique.

As you know, Bierstadt is my favourite, but I also really like Church, and Moran (all of them really). Hadn't realized the connection between Bierstadt and Church, so this seems to make sense.

Very good of you to share this information with us.

Just to add to the thread, for those who aren't particularly familiar with their work, they sometimes painted on huge canvases, Bierstadt especially. Sometimes over 12 feet across. It's more obvious I think in Cole's work, but their paintings, I gather, had a lot to do with spirituality, and the connections between God and the majesty of nature.

I believe Bierstadt was criticized at times, for his rather classical approach, with arguments suggesting his paintings lacked feeling and expression-I guess with the approach of Impressionism, his style was perhaps though of as "old fashioned". He also apparently painted a number of scenes, which are not accurate to the view he would have seen. Not just the majestic, luminous or atmospheric skies, but even the mountains or rock formations. Some paintings are apparently from vantage points that simply did not exist, for an artist to stand on. He apparently received some criticism for this as well. So I think it is ironic that he was criticized for lack of expression when it came to his painting style, and yet for being expressive by altering his subject.

Critics-gotta love em. :p

08-05-2005, 12:34 PM
Excellent, Jodi!

And what a spectacular group of painters they were.


08-05-2005, 12:40 PM
Hi-me again :wave: .

I gather you've seen Bierstadt's work IRL. You mention his technique was the same as that of Church.

If I'm understanding this, working from a detailed drawing, and a toned ground Bierstadt would have built up the painting primarily in thin layers, using glazing, and scumbling (I imagine). Did he also use a dry brush technique and some impastoed, or slightly impastoed passages, as you mention Moran did. Are his finished paintings smooth in most areas, with visible brushmarks in others (perhaps the light areason the rocks, for instance)?

Sorry for all the questions, but I'm not all that familiar with the European landscape techniques, although I do understand that Turner used fairly vigourous brushwork in places, and I think Constable did as well. I've no idea about the Dusselfdorf school.

08-05-2005, 04:29 PM
I can look at this stuff for hours.

08-05-2005, 05:17 PM

View of Cotopaxi


08-05-2005, 06:30 PM
Jodi - What a beautifully written article! :clap: :clap: :clap:

I have always loved the Hudson River School artists and have not known as much as I would like to about them! Thanks!

(Titanium - I just realized this painting is nearby me at the Chicago Art Institute. While I have seen this painting many times, I’m going to take an extra look next time! The detail and textures are gorgeous! )

The Smithsonian has a nice “online tour” about Moran. It one section it shows a couple of his field sketches, this could be helpful to those who want to learn about his technique.

Barb Solomon :cat:

08-05-2005, 07:13 PM
Hi All :wave:
Jon you are very welcome. I just figured if there were so many people with so many unanswered Q's about the H R V S, that I would share some of the info that I knew about them and their methods. Actually it was your idea to make a new thread, so I did. :D

Yes Jon they painted quite a lot on oversized canvases, it was the fashion of the time to create massive landscape paintings to show the Sublime Grandeur of the scene. It was also the reason for the extremely low horizon lines. ( one aside... it was at this same time that the first portable cameras were in use, and this type of view was the typical optical illusions that was created from the lens.) Bierstadt was chastised and ridiculed for his "over-embellishments" to his paintings. He was at the end of the period that the "school" was active and the classical realist paintings were quickly going out of fashion, and being replaced with impressionism.

Yes, I have seen a number of paintings from many of the H R V S artists, in person, including Bierstadt. Yes, you have the technique that he and most of the others used. Some used more or less impasto and each employed different palettes but all used the basic classical italian method taught to them. Church was considered to be more meticulous in his accuracy of detail in his paintings then most.

You know, the irony of the Turner connection to Cole is that Cole who truly admired Turners flamboyant brushwork, originally, when he first took up painting, painted very much like Turner. With thick painterly brushwork. But almost instantaneosly turned to a more topographical approach more in common with that of the lesser eighteenth century landscape painters of Europe. About the only one of the group that pursued his love of Turners style, further than his colleagues, in imitating technique as well as subject matter in some of his paintings, was Thomas Moran.

Thanks Dave, Yes they were one of a kind!!!!!

Richard, me too :D

Titanium, I hate to break it to you but, that painting by Church is not of Cotopaxi in Equador, although he did paint other paintings of scenes of South America, And one in particular of Cotopaxi erupting. That particular painting is of northern Maine. Painted one year before the Civil War. Many felt the sky was an omen of the days to come. Church had been working for months before this painting was actually started on studies of sunsets and twilight skys and had painted a smaller piece called "twilight" with the intention of doing a "great painting" from that one.

Hi Barb, and thanks.


08-05-2005, 08:23 PM
Apologies Jodi,

What I was wowing about is actually called -
Heart of the Andes.


It's my screensaver.
Tells you how much I pay attention to titles.
The Philadelphia Museum also has I believe
,The Voyage of Life.
Very Impressive.

08-05-2005, 10:24 PM
Then, what is this one?


Barb Solomon :cat:

08-05-2005, 10:32 PM
Titanium - That’s another very nice painting! Thanks for bringing it to my attention! :cool: :cool:

Barb Solomon :cat:

08-06-2005, 08:56 AM
Okay Barb,

you have convinced me that I need a book on -Church.
I have a small book of the group's sketches.
Hmm,I wonder how they did it-idea to image.
Must have had amazing memories and very efficient
oil studies,etc.
Great image!

*Now don't anyone spoil my fantasy and say they
were copying photographs.

08-06-2005, 11:07 AM
Very interesting information Jodi! Thanks! :)

Titanium, here is a link for this book, more than just Church


08-13-2005, 03:06 AM
Great thread Jodi!

Do you have this book nickel? I passed up one at B&N recently but this can't be the same. I think I may have to have this one.


08-13-2005, 12:09 PM
Thanks Donna-
I am glad that you all find these artists as masterful as I do.


08-13-2005, 12:40 PM
Thank you for the information. Do you know of any instructional material on this style?

08-14-2005, 09:29 AM
Hi Linda :wave:
If you mean by "instructional material" a single book or manual on technique and methodology, I know of none. That is why I started this thread. I have over the course of over 30 years, studied this group of artists, and gleened as much info as I could from as many sources as possible. I have also seen many of their paintings in person. But there are resources on the techniques of 17th century classical European landscape that was the basis of Coles painting style. From there it is all "detective" work :D

If you find any, I would love to know!!!


08-14-2005, 09:38 AM
Linda - in partial answer to your question, at least, have a look at this thread http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=247364 where I describe Turner's practices, which should help to some extent as he's an influence on the Hudson River Valley School.


08-14-2005, 10:04 PM
Thank for the link, Dave!

Barb Solomon :cat:

08-15-2005, 08:45 AM
Thanks for the link, Dave. I'll get over there this morning.
Yes, Jodi, I was hoping there was a book - perhaps you are the author?????
I'm so glad you started this thread - they are my favorite painters.

08-15-2005, 12:04 PM
Thanks again Dave, for the link. Now that I've spent 2 hours going from one link to another soaking up the best inspiration, perhaps I ought to pick up my brushes and get to work!

08-16-2005, 03:59 AM
Here is a Bierstadt at a gallery. Thought you may want to see it. I'm afraid to inquire.