The Hudson River School: The Story of an American Artistic Revolution

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PODCAST: Two landmarks of American art history sit on either side of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge over the Hudson River – the homes of visionary artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church.

Cole and Church were the leaders of the Hudson River School, a collective of 19th-century American painters captivated by natural beauty and the great outdoors. Many of these paintings, often large in size, depicted fantastic views of the Hudson River Valley where many artists lived.

In this episode, the final part of the Bowery Boys podcast miniseries Hudson Valley Road Trip, Greg and Tom travel to the historic towns of Catskill and Hudson to celebrate a pioneering artist and his star pupil, two men who transformed the way we view nature and revolutionized American art.

View of the Catskill – Early Autumn (Thomas Cole 1837)

The Hudson River School painters were philosophers and conservationists, idealizing a vanishing wilderness consumed by rapid industrial growth and American expansion.

Cole found his initial inspiration in the Catskill Mountains, sketching sunrises and returning to his cramped New York studio to paint. Eventually he moved to an overcrowded Catskill home – now the Thomas Cole National Historic Site – and here captured dozens of captivating fantasy worlds on canvas.

Olana State Historic Site, overlooking the valley. Photo by Greg Young

On the other side of the river is the Olana State Historic Site, the former estate of Church, who became America’s most famous painter in the mid-19th century. He expanded his view of the world beyond New York; the fruits of his South American travels — his classic The heart of the Andes – would draw thousands of awestruck and swoon crowds.

But in the end, his greatest work might be Olana itself, its manicured hills and graceful motorable roads designed to show off the Hudson River Valley’s maximum beauty.

Greg and Tom are joined on this show by Betsy Jacks at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Amy Hausmann and Dan Bigler of Olana State Historic Site.

Listen Now: The Hudson River School


For more information, visit the websites of Thomas Cole National Historic Site and the Olana State Historic Site. You can also discover the natural places depicted in many famous paintings by browsing the Hudson River School Art Trail.


Thomas Cole

Cole photographed in 1845, Macbeth Gallery Records, c. 1890-1964

A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning (1844)

On Catskill Creek (1845-47)

Catskill Mountain Home: The Four Elements (1843-1844)

The Journey of Life: Childhood (1842)

The Journey of Life: Manhood (1842)

All 2022 photographs were taken by Greg Young, unless otherwise noted.

A storefront in the town of Catskill.

This wall pattern is from the 1830s/40s, NOT the 1960s.

This room offers a multimedia presentation that immerses the visitor in Cole’s creative process.
Greg and Tom with Betsy Jacks in the new studio, admiring Cole’s unfinished painting.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge (with footbridge)

(And speaking of bridges, swing through the town of Catskill to catch this beauty – an 1882 railroad bridge).


Frederic Edwin Church

Photographed by Mathew Brady, 1864

The heart of the Andes (1859)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

View of the Hudson River Valley from Olana (1867)

The Meteor of 1860 (1860)

Images of the Olana State Historic Site. Photos by Greg Young

Frederic Church’s house. Photo by Greg Young

A photo of Whitecliff Vineyard which sits on the site of a 19th century farmhouse. Olana’s path to the ferry passed through this site.

Photo by Greg Young

MORE LISTENING

After listening to this episode on the Hudson River School, return to these previous Bowery Boys podcasts that deal with similar themes or situations from the show:

1) Listen to the first part of the Road Trip in the Hudson Valley, featuring the Old Croton Aqueduct trail:

2) And in the second part of this mini-series, we looked at the life of the Roosevelts at their home in Hyde Park:

3) Frederick Law Olmsted and the creation of Central Park play a minor role in this week’s show

4) A very different set of painters feature in the 1913 Armory Show account

5) …and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a great place to view Hudson River School paintings. Frederic Church was even one of the founding administrators!

FURTHER READING

American Paradise: The Hudson River School World / Metropolitan Museum of Art
American Wilderness: The Story of the Hudson River School of Painting / Barbara Babcock Mill
Charmed Places: Hudson River Artists and Their Homes, Studios, and Views / designed by Sandra S. Phillips
Frederick’s Church / John K. Howat
Olana from Frederic Church on the Hudson / photographs by Larry Lederman
The Life and Times of Asher B. Durand / John Durand

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