Hudson River School – The Hart Family

Part 3.  Julie Hart

“…Mrs. Julie Hart Beers Kempson became the only woman artist of the century to specialize in landscape. It is perhaps not surprising to find so few women landscapists, since the rigors of painting outdoors and the unseemliness of women engaging in this activity during the Victorian era acted as a deterrent…”

William H. Gerdts,
Women Artists of America 1707-1964 (Newark: Newark Museum, 1965)

The above extract is from the article in the 1965 Newark Museum catalogue Women artists of America, 1707-1964 that accompanied the exhibition.  It was written by the American art historian and former professor of Art History at the City University of New York Graduate Center, William Gerdts.

Cabin in Autumn, Upper Hudson Valley by Julie Hart Beers (1910)

In my final blog regarding the artistically talented siblings of the American Hart family I want to look at the life and work of the youngest child of James and Marion Hart, Scottish immigrants who had settled in Albany, N.Y., in 1831. Julie Hart was born in 1835, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and was the only one of her siblings to have been born in America. She, as we have seen in the two previous blogs, had two talented artists as brothers, William Hart and James McDougal Hart. The world of Fine Art in America, in the nineteenth century, was a male-dominated institution. There were female painters but they were looked upon purely as hobbyists rather than being serious professional painters. It was believed by many men that women had better things to do than paint professionally – raising children, keeping house and looking after their hard-working husbands. Most art academies didn’t admit women, and neither did the art societies that linked artists with patrons, which was a prerequisite to the financial success of an aspiring artist. So, in the early part of the nineteenth century, women artists signed their work with just a first initial and a surname so as to conceal their gender, thus hoping that their ability as an artist would not be downgraded once the sex of the artist was known. For women to succeed in the world of Fine Art they needed both their family and/or financial backing to launch them professionally. Often, they were the sisters, daughters and wives of better-known male artist. There was no formal training for women at art institutions so once again they relied on family members or friends to help develop their talent. Julia Hart was fortunate enough to have her two elder brothers, who were aligned with the Hudson River School of art, to teach and mentor her and so, as a teenager, she became interested in plein air landscape painting.  She was one of very few professional women landscape painters in nineteenth-century America

The Old Birch Tree by Julia Hart Beers (1876)

In 1865 the American Civil War had ended and the Reconstruction had begun. Americans unfettered by the trials of war were once again relishing the joys of tourism and travel. They would often explore the great landscapes. One such area was the banks of the Hudson River which had started its 319-mile journey from the Adirondacks towards its outflow between Manhattan and Jersey City. It was the upper reaches including the Adirondacks, Catskills and White Mountains which tempted both tourists and artists alike. The artists, who were looked upon as being part of the Hudson River School, wanted to capture the beauty on canvas and the tourists wanted pictorial mementos of their journeys. These areas of beauty were often steep-sided hills and mountains and for female artists who came to the region for some plein air sketching and painting, they had to overcome the challenge of decorous dressing versus suitable attire for their arduous painting trips. These women ventured on their own or alongside male relatives into the wilderness, painting the breath-taking scenery that inspired America’s first art movement. Julie Hart was one of those women.

Hudson River at Croton Point by Julie Hart Beers (1869)

Julie Beers married in 1853, when she was eighteen years old. Her husband, also a painter, was Marion Beers. Marion, like Julie’s brothers, helped teach his wife artistic techniques which were to serve her well in the future. In the mid 1850’s Julie, like her two brothers, relocated to New York city and set up a studio. Since her marriage, Julie signed all her paintings “Julie H Beers
It is thought that Julie’s first exhibition was held at the National Academy of Design (NAD) in 1867, following which she had her paintings exhibited at the NAD annual exhibitions in each of the following twelve years. She also exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1867 and 1868 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1868.

Still Life with Fruit by Julie Hart Beers (1866)

Besides being a renowned landscape painter Julie was also a talented still life artist as can be seen by her 1866 painting Still life with Fruit.

Basket of Roses by Julie Hart Beers (ca. 1860’s).

Another of her still life paintings, completed around the same time was entitled Basket of Roses.

Cabin by the Forest by Julie H Beers

Her husband, Marion Beers died in 1876 and the following year Julie married Peter Kempson and the newly-weds moved to Metuchen in New Jersey.  Julie Hart Beers Kempson proved that women landscape painters were the equal of men, despite the harshness of painting en plein air in the wild and often barely accessible landscapes along the Hudson River.  Sadly her paintings did not receive affair and objective assessment during her lifetime and she was not truly valued in her own time, but notwithstanding that transgression, her talent and dedication as an artist which not only produced outstanding works of art, but also led the way for the female landscapists who would follow her.

A Quiet Pond by Julie Hart Beers (1873)

I will end this blog as I started it, with a quotation.  This one is from Jennifer Krieger, Managing Partner at Hawthorne Fine Art in New York City. Her article entitled Women Artists of the Hudson River School formed part of the catalogue which accompanies the 2010 exhibition, Remember the Ladies: Women of the Hudson River School, which was held at Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, New York. She wrote about the trials and tribulations of female artists and their struggle to carry out plein air painting in remote areas of the Hudson River valleys. She wrote:

“…These artists managed to make their way through vast, unexplored stretches of the American landscape and to shimmy up trees (for better views) in spite of their long skirts. Rather than complain about all that society had placed in their way…… [They] were all intent on honoring the beauty of the natural world they had experienced so directly. Rather than to complain about all that society had placed in their way, women artists pushed forward to accomplish their goals. As a result of their determination, our own cultural topography has been immeasurably enriched…”

A Hudson River Scene by Julie H Beers

Julie Hart Beers Kempson demonstrated that women landscape painters were the equal of men, even given the hardships of painting outdoors.  While largely undervalued in her own time, her talent and dedication not only produced outstanding works of art, but also broke important ground for the female landscapists who would follow her.

Hudson River School – The Hart family.

Part 2 – James McDougal Hart and family.

James McDougal Hart

The Hudson River School, as it has come to be termed, was founded by the painter Thomas Cole around 1825. Cole believed that nature manifested to man the mind of the Creator and saw the artist as a prophet. The Hudson River School was so named because its proponents showed a fondness for depicting the scenery to be found in the countryside bordering the Hudson River. James McDougal Hart, like his brother William and his sister, Julie, were looked upon as second generation exponents of this type of landscape painting.

James McDougal Hart (1828-1901)

James McDougal Hart was born on May 10th 1828 in the East Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock. His father James was a schoolteacher and he and his wife took passage on the SS Camillus with their seven children and emigrated to America, landing in New York on February 12th 1830. After landing on American shore, the family located to Albany in upstate New York.

After completing his education, James, like his brother William before him, became an apprentice to a local sign and carriage maker and was employed to paint landscape scenes on carriage doors and banners. In 1851 James left America and travelled to Germany, visiting Munich, Leipzig and Dusseldorf, where he enrolled for a short period at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. Being a student at the Academy he was influenced by the Düsseldorf school of painting, which was a name given to a group of painters who taught or studied at the Academy during the 1830s and 1840s, a period when the Academy was directed by the Romantic painter Wilhelm von Schadow. The Dusseldorf School is typified by its keenly detailed yet imaginary landscapes, often with religious or allegorical stories set in the landscapes and he was a great believer in plein air painting and the use of a palette with comparatively subdued colours.

The Old Homestead by James McDougal Hart (1862)

The Düsseldorf School had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, and many prominent Americans trained at the Düsseldorf Academy such as George Caleb Bingham, Worthington Whittredge, and Richard Caton Woodville. Strangely, one of the great Hudson River painters, Albert Bierstadt, applied but was not accepted.

Cows Watering by James McDougal Hart

James Hart returned to Albany around 1853 and opened a studio where he painted and gave painting lessons. In 1857 he moved to New York City and he and his brother William opened up a studio. James became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1857 and a full member in 1859.

The Puzzle by Marie Theresa Gorsuch Hart

James Hart married fellow painter Marie Theresa Gorsuch in 1866 and the couple went on to have five children, three sons Robert Gorsuch Hart, William Gorsuch Hart and William Howard Hart and two daughters, Mary Theresa Hart and Letitia Bonnet Hart. Three of the siblings became artists in their own right.

Portrait of Adeline Pond Adams Seated in an Interior by William Howard Hart (1891)

William Howard Hart became a landscape and portrait painter. He studied in New York with J. Alden Weir at the Art Students League. Later, in the 1890’s, he went to Paris and studied under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Academy Julian.

The Basket of Roses by Letitia Bonnet Hart

Letitia Bonnet Hart, who became a painter known for her portrait and figure painting, was born in 1867. She exhibited in twenty-eight annual exhibitions from 1885 to 1914, including at the Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1901 she exhibited in the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and three years later, in 1904, her work was shown in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis,. She and her sister Mary Theresa Hart, shared a studio in NYC and later she went to live in Lakesville, CT.

The Puzzle by Marie Theresa Gorsuch Hart

Marie Theresa Hart was born in 1872 in Brooklyn, New York and studied with her father as well as with Edgar Melville Ward, the American genre painter, at the National Academy of Design. Between 1889 and 1895, she was enrolled in antique and life classes at the Academy and won several awards. She was best known for her floral painting and illustrations of violets and was also an accomplished portrait artist and art teacher.

 

The Coming Storm by James McDougal Hart

One of James Hart’s favourite subjects was cattle, and this can be seen by his painting entitled The Coming Storm, where he depicted them huddled under trees, during a period of stormy weather.

Picnic on the Hudson by James McDougal Hart

The mid 1860’s was a time of wealth for some Americans. The Civil War had ended in 1865. The North in 1865 was an extremely prosperous region. Its economy had boomed during the war, bringing economic growth to both the factories and the farms. Since the war had been fought almost entirely on Southern soil, the North did not have to face the task of rebuilding. Men involved in transportation made large profits from the movement of supplies for the Union troops during the Civil War. The world of property development also created many wealthy people. It was known as the Gilded Age and was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900. The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the Northern United States and the Western United States.

A Mid Summers Idyll by James McDougal Hart (1868)

James Hart later moved to Brooklyn and in the 1870s, he and his brother, William, opened studios in Keene Valley, NY, in the heart of the Adirondacks. For artists like James Hart and his brother William there was plenty of commissions to be had. The wealthy industrialists, now the nouveau riche of the post-Civil War society especially wanted to acquire works which depicted serene and relaxing rural scenes, scenes of picturesque tranquillity and they were eager to spend their money on such paintings as well as other paraphernalia of culture which they believed would allow them to become part of the cultured elite. The American author Sinclair Hamilton summed it up, observing:

“…both Hart brothers painted in a language intelligible for the artistically illiterate…”

James McDougal Hart Oil Painting – Hudson River Landscape

James went on to exhibit at the annual exhibitions of the National Academy, and also at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boston Athenaeum, the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the Boston Art Club, and at the Paris Expositions of 1867 and 1878.

Autumn Landscape by James McDougal Hart (1867)

James McDougal Hart died on October 24, 1901, aged 73. Like his brother William, he is buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Even if one cares little today for the style of painting carried out by James and William Hart, one is able to benefit a better understanding of the era in general, and of its fascination with the Hudson River School painters, through a study of their art work. . The paintings of James MacDougal Hart can be found in several public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.

Hudson River School – The Hart family.

Part 1. William Hart

“…Go first to Nature to learn to paint landscape, and when you shall have earnt to imitate her, you may then study the pictures of great artists with benefit . . . I would urge on any young student in landscape painting, the importance of painting direct from Nature as soon as he shall have acquired the first rudiments of Art…”

Asher Durand, a leading Hudson River School painter.
Letters on Landscape Painting (1855)

The Hudson River School painters produced the most richly colourful and remarkable landscape works of the 19th century. However, the term “Hudson River School” was a judgemental term used by European critics who were used to, and preferred, the revered realism of the French Barbizon School. The Hudson River paintings celebrated and honoured the rugged beauty of the American landscape. The works effectively communicated the natural grandeur of what was termed the New World. The paintings did not just depict scenes of the Hudson River Valley, but also depicted scenes from the Catskills, Adirondacks, White Mountains, the Maritimes, the American West and South and the second-generation painters even captured the beauty of their Canadian neighbour. In earlier blogs I have looked at the life and works of many of the Hudson River painters such as Frederick Church, Asher Durand and the man looked upon as the founder of the movement, Thomas Cole. In my next three blogs I am going to look at the members of a family whose art followed the concepts of this art movement. Let me introduce you to three members, siblings, of the Hart family.

James Hart and Marion Robertson lived in Scotland and the couple married on July 16th 1811, and they went on to have ten children. Of these, William Hart was born in Paisley, Scotland on March 31st 1823 and James McDougal Hart was born five years later on May 10th 1828. In 1830 James and Marion Hart and their seven children sailed for America, arriving in New York on February 12th aboard the SS Camillus.  They later settled in Albany in up-state New York. At the time of their sea voyage, James was twenty-one months old and William was just a few months away from his seventh birthday. On December 28th 1834, their youngest child, a daughter, Julia Fenn Hart was born. She was the only child of the family to be born in America. Julia later changed the spelling of her name to Julie and dropped the middle name, Fenn, entirely.

William Hart
William Hart’s signature

If you read about William Hart you will see his name is often given as “William M Hart” or “William McDougal Hart” but some say the middle name “McDougal” was his brother’s middle name and not his.  I have no idea of the correct name so I will just refer to him as William Hart.  Above is a signature from one of his paintings and he has signed it “Wm” with the small letter “m” underlined which I believe is a shortened version of William and not the initial of a middle name.  William’s artistic ability was all self-taught. He was apprenticed to a decorative painter in Albany, New York and worked in the local township of Troy. He was employed to paint coach panels and window shades with depictions of landscapes. Later William decided to set himself up as a portrait painter and travelled in search of commissions and spent several years in and around Michigan but returned to Albany in 1845 because of ill health and a paucity of business opportunities.

First Sketch from Nature by William Hart (1845)

To give some idea of the artistry of William Hart, one only has to look at one of his first landscape works. It is a prime example of his talent at using oil paints plein air which required a special talent. Prior to 1841, when collapsible paint tubes revolutionized plein air painting, pigments had to be mixed and blended by hand, and then carefully sealed in leather bladder bags for transport. It was a time-consuming and problematic task. However, William Hart probably was able to buy the collapsible tubes. The work was entitled First Sketch from Nature and this oil on canvas work was completed in 1845, by the twenty-two year old. On the reverse of the canvas is inscribed the words:

“…My first sketch from Nature in Oil Wm. Hart 1845 Normanskill near Albany N.Y…”

Wordsworth Manor (White Moss House near Grasmere) by William Hart, (1852,) Albany Institute of History and Art

His first art works were exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1848. Having gained the financial assistance of a patron, Doctor Ormsby, William Hart went abroad in 1849. He spent three years travelling around both England, but mainly his native Scotland before returning to Albany in 1852.

A Quiet Nook by William Hart (1885)

In the following year he took up residence in New York and at this time, all his art was focused on landscape painting and many would include studies of cattle. Cattle were a popular decorative addition in Hudson River School art, and many of the artists from that group included them in at least some of their landscapes. The inclusion of the animals was looked upon as being symbolic of man’s cordial rapport with nature.

Mount Madison from Shelburne by William Hart (1871)

In 1854, he opened up his own studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. It was the first modern facility in the city designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century. In its initial years, Winslow Homer took a studio there, as did Edward Lamson Henry, and many of the artists of the Hudson River School, including Frederic Church, Lockwood de Forest and Albert Bierstadt.

Harvest Scene – Valley of the Delaware by William Hart (1868)

William soon became one of the most popular landscape artists of the late nineteenth century. He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1854 and an academician in 1858. On July 15th that same year William and his wife, Jennette had their first child, a daughter, Jessie.

Cows Drinking at a Pool by William Hart (1886)

William Hart was a founder of the Brooklyn Academy of Design and seven years later, in 1865, he became its first president. William Hart exhibited his work on a regular basis throughout the mid 1870’s in particular at the Brooklyn Art Association. He was also one of the eleven founding members of the American Watercolour Society, which was formed at a meeting at the Gilbert Burling’s studio in the New York University Building on December 5th 1866 and Hart was its president from 1870 to 1873. It is interesting to note that although the Society wished to keep the quality of its membership high, many of the top artists of the time were reluctant to join the new Society because women had been allowed membership.

White Pine, Shokan, Ulster County, New York by William Hart (1859)

William Hart also painted in watercolours and his 1860 watercolour and pencil on paper work entitled White Pine, Shokan, Ulster County, New York is a fine example of his work. It is a depiction of a white pine tree.  Few works can surpass the immediacy and spontaneity of William Hart’s watercolour of a stately white pine tree, which he observed whilst visiting Shokan, New York, which lies on the eastern edge of the Catskill Mountains. Hart frequently went on long sketching trips and travelled throughout the Hudson River valley. He even went as far away as Maine and Lake Superior. As a talented draughtsman he experimented with different media and diverse styles. William Hart completed close to four hundred drawings and watercolours which in 2004 were donated to the Albany Institute and from looking at the collection one can see his love of nature and his determination to depict it accurately.

Naponock (Naponoch) Scenery, Ulster County, New York by William Hart (1883)

William Hart was also known for his remarkable etchings. In 1883 the Art Department of the New England Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Institute, Boston, held an important exhibition of contemporary American art. The 731 works on view were mainly American drawings and etchings one of which William M. Hart’s etching, Naponock (Naponoch) Scenery, Ulster County, New York.

Scene at Napanoch by William Hart (1883)

That same year Hart completed an oil painting depicting the same area which also included the obligatory cattle. It was simply entitled Scene at Naponock and can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a direct bequest from Hart’s daughter, Jessie Hart White.

William Hart died at Mount Vernon, New York, in June, 1894, aged 71 and was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Frederic Edwin Church, Part 2

For those of you who have just landed on this page I suggest you go back to my previous blog which looks at Frederic Church’s early life and talks a little about his exhibition at the National Gallery, London which I visited last week.

Our Banner in the Sky by Frederic Edwin Church (1861)
Our Banner in the Sky by Frederic Edwin Church (1861)

Another beautiful and moving historical painting by Frederic Church which was on display at the exhibition and which I found very moving was a small oil painting entitled Our Banner in the Sky which Frederic Church completed in 1861.  I stood before this work, fascinated by the way in which Church had cleverly depicted the image of the Stars and Stripes American flag in tatters against an amazing daybreak landscape with its red and white bands of clouds.  Church had painted this shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter by General Beauregard and his Confederate troops in January 1861 , which signalled the start of the American Civil War, which tragically went on to cost so many American lives.   In the work we see a bare and tall tree slightly leaning over, which acts as a flagpole for the flag which blends in with the early morning sky.  In it, we see the North Star depicted through a patch of blue sky.  Church has cleverly managed to create a highly patriotic scene which in some ways connects the American landscape with the Northern cause.  It was a heartfelt cry for unity which sadly was not listened to. It was such a popular work that the Manhattan art dealer, Goupil & Co. commissioned Church to produce a chromolithograph of the work and, within a few months, hundreds of copies were bought up by the public.

Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)
Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)

It was during the New York exhibition of his Andes painting that Frederic Church met Isabel Carnes.  In 1860 just three months before his marriage to Isabel, Church bought some 126 acres of farmland, close to the towns of Hudson and Catskill and situated on a south sloping hill, overlooking the Hudson River.  He was familiar with this site as he had visited the area whilst on a painting trip with Thomas Cole in 1845.   As he still lived in New York, this new acquisition would be the family country get-away.   Church employed the foremost architect of the time, Richard Morris Hunt, to construct a cottage and design this ferme ornée.  The term means an ‘ornamented farm’, and describes a country estate laid out partly according to aesthetic principles and partly for farming.  Church and his wife referred to the small cottgae on the estate as their Cosy Cottage and it was surrounded by gardens and orchards and Church even had a section of marshland drained so as to build his own expansive ten acre lake.  Over time he bought up more of the adjoining land and eventually his estate encompassed 250 acres.

Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)
Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)

He and his wife lead a settled and happy life and he spent most of his time tending to his farm but his happiness was shattered in March 1865 when both his young children contracted diphtheria and died a week apart.  In an attempt to counteract the intense grief suffered after their children’s death, he and his wife along with some friends travelled to Jamaica where, for five months, Frederic immersed himself in a painting frenzy whilst his wife collected numerous species of ferns which she would later bring back home and which would form part of her fern garden.  Isabel’s interest in ferns and Frederic’s love of depicting nature in his painting were combined in his 1865 work entitled Fern Walk, Jamaica in which Church depicts a narrow path winding through luxuriant plants and ferns.  The shades of greens and browns which he used in depicting the native flora is breathtaking.  Frederic Church loved his stay in Jamaica.  He loved sketching plein air in the tropical light and, on his return to America, would often encourage other landscape artists to venture on painting trips to the Caribbean island.  In a letter he wrote to the landscape artist, Charles de Wolf Bramwell, he extolled the Fern Walk area of the island, writing:

“…the vegetation, next to that on the Magdalena River, the finest I ever saw –– The ferns, especially in the region known as Fern Walk — excelled every place…”

Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)
Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)

The couple returned home from Jamaica and in 1866 Isabel Church gave birth to a son, Frederic Junior.   The following year Frederic and Isabel, along with their son and Isabel’s mother, set off on a two-year long journey of Europe and the Holy Land.   They visited Jerusalem and from there headed to Jordan where Church, after an arduous ten day journey by mule, arrived at the ancient city of Petra.  During the long trip Church continually sketched and painted.  It was a trip which was fraught with danger from not only local bandits, but from the native porters which were helping Church’s party get to their destination.  These Arabs were very superstitious about his sketching but were eventually won over by his skill.  He finally arrived at Petra and made the long climb up above the city to the monastery of Ed Deir, which in the first century AD was a Nabatean temple.   Frederic Church completed his beautiful oil and graphite painting entitled Ed Dier, Petra, Jordan,   Unbelievable at it may sound but Church completed the work in just one sitting, in 1868.

Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)
Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)

From the Holy Land, Frederic Church returned to Europe visiting Rome and Athens and also the Bavarian Alpine region, Switzerland and Austria which had always been a popular venue for landscape painters.  Church was drawn to this area as he was always searching for beautiful vistas to paint.   He liked the area as he believed there was a marked similarity between the geography of the area and that of the rugged American landscapes which he knew so well.  In July 1868 he visited the Königsee, the beautiful Upper Bavarian lake which nestles amongst steep-sided cliffs.  Sheltered from the weather,  the surface of the lake is often mirror-like reflecting the surrounding mountains.   He completed a beautiful work entitled Königsee that month and it is a poignant reminder to me of the times I have visited the lake and stood in awe before it, mesmerised by its beauty.

South West Facade of Olana by Frederic Church (1870)
South West Facade of Olana
A watercolour by Frederic Church (1870)

Frederic Church in 1867 was becoming homesick and wanted to return to America and his country estate.  Since he bought it seven years earlier he had been constantly planning the landscape design for the land and the architectural design for a large house on the top of the hill.  Richard Morris Hunt, his architect, had submitted plans for a large French chateau-style house and Church had liked the idea and agreed to the design.   However having returned from his tour of the Levant and studied the architecture of the area, he changed his mind.  He decided to discharge Hunt and take on the British-born American architect and landscape designer Calvert Vaux who was based in Manhattan and had in 1858, along with Frank Law Olmstead had won a design competition to improve and expand New York’s Central Park.

Olana Historic Site
Olana Historic Site

Frederic Church and Vaux worked on the plans for the design of the house which was to be the centrepiece of  Church’s estate, which he and his wife Isabel named Olana after a fortress-treasure house in ancient Persia which like Church’s estate also overlooked a river valley.  The building project was completed in 1872.

As Church got older he spent more and more time on his farm and concentrated his time running the estate.  From the 1870’s onwards Church suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis which badly affected his right arm curtailing much of his art work although he did teach himself to paint with his left hand.  Frederic Church died in 1900, aged 74 and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)
Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)

I will finish this blog with a look at the painting by Frederic Church, which most impressed me at the exhibition.  It is entitled Forest Pool and was completed by Frederic Church around 1860.  It was almost the first work I came across as I entered the exhibition room and I had to keep coming back to it in order to savour its beauty.   I stood before it and could not believe the quality of the painting.  Such beautifully drawn details.  Such beautiful colour and tones.  The work was a close-up view of a dense forest and a small forest pool.   Every square inch of the work is covered in rich shades of green and brown and although it was a study for a larger painting, it seems as if it is a finished work.  The artist has delightfully depicted the tranquillity of the forest scene with the calm surface of the pond offering up reflections of the trees and their branches and spots of sunlight.  If you look closely at the upper middle part of the composition you will just be able to make out a hint of blue sky which is otherwise blocked by the screen of trees.

The Frederic Church exhibition at the National Gallery is worth going to see for this painting alone.

Frederic Edwin Church, Part 1

Last weekend I spent a two day break in London attending the christening of my grandson and pottering around a couple of galleries visiting their current exhibitions.   I had tickets for the Boccacio exhibition at the National Gallery and whilst there I decided to call in to their small but excellent Frederic Church exhibition, Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch, which is running until April 28th.   It was a veritable gem of a show and as the publicity stated,

 “…[ it was an invitation to] step into a world of wild natural phenomena with the landscape oil sketches of celebrated American landscape painter, Frederic Church…

 It is a free-to-enter exhibition and one you should try and visit.   I want to dedicate the next two blogs to the nineteenth century American painter Frederic Church, and look at some of his paintings, some of which were at the exhibition.  Church was a master of the plein-air oil sketch and I ask you to accompany me on a journey looking at his life and sampling some of his exquisite artistic gems.

Frederic Church was born in Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut, in May 1826.  He came from a privileged background.  His father, Joseph, who came from a very prosperous family, was a jeweller, silversmith and a Hartford insurance adjuster and the Church household lived an affluent lifestyle.  Frederic, who was brought up in a devout Protestant Congregationalist household, showed a propensity for art whilst at school and through a family neighbour, Daniel Wadsworth, was fortunate enough to be introduced to Thomas Cole, the English-born American landscape artist, who is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School.  Thomas Cole, who up until then had never taken a pupil under his wing, agreed to take Frederic on as his pupil.   Frederic studied under Thomas Cole in his Catskill studio between 1844 and 1846 during which time he and his tutor would go off on painting trips to the Catskill Mountains and the Berkshires, a highland region in western Massachusetts, west of the Connecticut and lower Westfield Rivers .

Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636  from Plymouth to Hartford by Frederic Church (1846)
Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636 from Plymouth to Hartford
by Frederic Church (1846)

Frederic flourished under Cole’s guidance and, within a year, he had his painting, a scene from early New England history, Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636 from Plymouth to Hartford shown at New York’s National Academy of Design annual exhibition.  The scene recounts the June 1636 journey made by the prominent Puritan religious leader, Reverend Thomas Hooker as he left the Boston area with one hundred men, women, and children and set out for the Connecticut valley. The group traveled over one hundred miles through the wilderness and reached their destination in early July. Many members of the Hooker party settled in Hartford, while some located to nearby Wethersfield and Windsor, and others traveled north and settled Springfield, Massachusetts.    It was through this painting that Church combined his love for ancient landscapes with an acknowledgement of his cultural origins.  The following year Church was elected as the youngest Associate of the National Academy of Design and was promoted to Academician the following year.  That year he sold his first major oil painting to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, an art museum which had been founded by Daniel Wadsworth.

 After completing his apprenticeship with Cole, Frederic Church moved to New York and set up his own studio in a space which he rented in the Art-Union Building, which was at the centre of the city’s art world, and he began to teach art.   During the spring and autumn months he would leave the city and set out on painting trips throughout New England, particularly Vermont.  Over the months he would build up a large collection of sketches of the beautiful scenery he witnessed, which he would then bring back to his New York studio and during the dark and cold months of winter he would convert them into beautiful landscape paintings.    His landscape artistry was much admired and his landscape works featuring New York and New England vistas sold well.  Frederic Church’s landscape paintings differed from the moral and religious allegorical ones which had been the hallmark of his tutor, Thomas Cole’s landscape works,  for Church wanted to concentrate on the true beauty of nature.  His depictions of storms, sunsets and waterfalls in the Catskill Mountains encapsulated the beauty and spirituality of the American wilderness.  It could well be the case that Frederic Church had read the words of the great English art critic John Ruskin who laid out his ideas of what a young artist should seek to achieve in their landscape works.  Ruskin wrote:

 “…For young artists nothing ought to be tolerated but simple bona fide imitation of nature….. Their duty is neither to choose, nor compose, nor imagine, nor experimentalize; but to be humble and earnest in following the steps of nature, and tracing the finger of God…”

Niagara by Frederic Church (1857)
Niagara by Frederic Church (1857)

During a two year period, 1854 to 1856, Frederic Church travelled extensively visiting Nova Scotia, and journeying throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and it was around this time that he visited the Niagara Falls.   The Falls, by this time, had become a great tourist attraction and a favourite destination for artists.  Whilst at the Falls he completed a number of oil sketches which he would utilise when he painted his large-scale works of the Falls in 1857 and 1867.   Frederic Church’s great breakthrough came when, in 1857, he exhibited his painting Niagara It was a large work measuring 107cms x 230cms (see My Daily Art Display Sept 9th 2011) and it visually stunned all who saw it.   Without doubt, the late 1850’s were the high point of Church’s career.  Artistic triumph followed artistic triumph.

 Frederic Church had, like many others,  become fascinated with the translated writings of the celebrated Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, which were based on his five-year expedition in the New World at the start of the nineteenth century.  It was in one of his works, Kosmos  that Von Humboldt implored artists to travel and paint equatorial South America.   In 1853, along with his friend, the young entrepreneur Cyrus West Field, who had financed the trip, Church set off on the first of two expeditions following Humboldt’s footsteps, chiefly in Colombia;  the second trip, in 1857, in company with the American Creole landscape painter, Louis Remy Mignot.   Together, the artists travelled from Panama to Ecuador, where they spent 10 weeks painting village and mountain scenes.

The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Church (1859)
The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Church (1859)

From his trips to South and Central America, Frederic Church amassed a large collection of sketches from which, on his return home, he completed large and spectacular oil paintings.  One of these works was his ten-foot wide work entitled The Heart of the Andes which he completed in 1859.   This elaborate and highly structured painting was his most ambitious work.  In this painting Church managed to depict the variety of earthly life as seen by the lush green foreground.   The painting took pride of place in a New York exhibition, housed in an elaborate window-like frame and illuminated in a darkened room by concealed skylights.  Can you just imagine what nineteenth century viewers made of this extraordinary painting exhibited in such an extraordinary setting?   People thronged to see the painting and it was estimated that more than twelve thousand people visited the exhibition in three weeks and were happy to part with a quarter each to see it.  For that admission fee, the public were provided with opera glasses so that they could examine the painting in detail.  The painting was then shipped to England where once again people flocked to see it.  Church eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.

Iceberg Flotante by Frederic Church (1859)
Iceberg Flotante by Frederic Church (1859)

In 1859 Church took a voyage north along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in search of icebergs.  On this trip he was accompanied by the Reverend Louis L. Noble, an author who was to write about their trip together in his 1861 book, After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and Around Newfoundland.  During their voyage of discovery Frederic Church and Noble would hire a boat to take them up close to these awe-inspiring floating icebergs to allow Church to sketch these remarkable and majestic floating white giants.  Frederic Church managed to capture the breath-taking beauty of these white giants in a number of his paintings, one of which was his work entitled Iceberg Flotante which he completed in 1859

The Icebergs by Frederic Church (1861)
The Icebergs by Frederic Church (1861)

I particularly like his 1861 painting entitled The Icebergs, in the foreground of which we see a broken masthead lying cross-like on the ice.  Not only is this a beautiful landscape work but it is a kind of historical painting as the inclusion of the masthead is a reference to the tragic loss of Sir John Franklin’s doomed British expedition party which had been attempting to cross the last un-navigated section of the North-West Passage in 1847.  Sadly, the two ships of the expedition became icebound in Victoria Strait, close to King William Island in the Canadian Arctic.  Despite the British Admiralty’s sending numerous search parties to find the ships, the entire expedition party, including Franklin himself and his 128 men, was lost.

……………………………………………….to be continued in my next blog.

Niagara by Frederic Edwin Church

Niagara by Frederic Church (1857)

My Daily Art Display for today returns to a painting by an American artist and another member of the Hudson River School, which was a mid-19th century American art movement personified by a group of landscape painters whose artistic vision was influenced by the 18th century European Romanticism movement.   The paintings for which the group is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the area around the Catskill, Adirondack and the White Mountain ranges.  The artist is Frederic Edwin Church.

Frederic Church was born in Hartford Connecticut in 1826.  His father, Joseph, was a silversmith and watchmaker and through his success and that of his father who had owned a paper mill, the Church household lived a prosperous lifestyle.  Frederic studied art at school and through a family neighbour, Daniel Wadsworth, was fortunate enough to be introduced to Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School, who agreed to take Frederic on as his pupil.   Church thrived under Cole’s tutelage and within a year, he had some of his paintings shown in the National Academy of Design annual exhibition.  The following year, 1848, Church was elected as the youngest Associate of the National Academy of Design and was promoted to Academician the following year.  That year he sold his first major oil painting to the Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, which had been founded by Wadsworth.

In 1848 he went to live in New York and began to teach art.  In his spare time in spring and autumn he would travel throughout New York and New England, particularly Vermont, all the time sketching the beautiful scenery whilst during the winter months he would return to New York City and his home and convert his numerous sketches into a number of landscape paintings, all of which sold well.   Church and a friend set forth on an adventurous trip through Central America and Ecuador. From this trip, Church’s first finished South American pictures, shown to great acclaim in 1855, transformed his career.   For the next decade he devoted a great part of his attention to those subjects, producing a celebrated series that became the basis of his ensuing international fame.   During a two year period, 1854 to 1856, he travelled extensively visiting Nova Scotia, and journeying throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and it was around this time that he visited the Niagara Falls.   The late 1850’s were the high point of Church’s career, artistic triumph followed artistic triumph.   In 1857 he made another trip to Ecuador and also took a voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador.  In 1860, Church bought some farmland at Hudson, New York, and married Isabel Carnes, whom he had met during the exhibition of his paintings.   He and his wife lead a settled and happy life and he spent most of his time tending to his farm but his happiness was shattered in 1865 when both his young children contracted diphtheria and died.  However, with the birth of Frederic junior in 1866, Church and his wife began a new family that was eventually to number four children.

At the end of 1867, Frederic Church and his family embarked on a long trip to Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and Greece that was to last eighteen months and was to lead to several important paintings. As Church got older he spent more and more time on his farm and farming.  From the 1870’s onwards Church suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis and it badly affected his right arm which curtailed much of his art work although he did teach himself to paint with his left hand.  Frederic Church died in 1900, aged 74 and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Today’s painting by Frederic Church entitled Niagara is one of four he painted of this waterfall.  This one was painted in 1857 and guaranteed for him, still a young man of thirty-one, the role of America’s most famous painter.   It is probably the most famous painting of it ever made.  During the 19th century, American artists flocked to the Falls to paint the various views of it.  The Falls were looked upon as the nation’s greatest natural wonder.   This picture was painted from the Canadian shore, a short distance above Table Rock, and includes the sweep of the Horseshoe Fall and the edge of Goat Island in a notable depiction of water and light. The time is towards evening.   We can see an amazing amount of detail in every stage of the water’s journey as it cascades downwards.  Look at how Church has incorporated an optical flourish of the rainbow against the falling waters.

The painting was introduced to the American public shortly after its completion, as a one-painting exhibition at the commercial gallery of Williams, Stevens, and Williams in New York City.   People flocked to see the work and were willing to pay 25 cents each to view the monumental canvas, which measured 109cms x 230cms and sometimes they would use opera glasses or other optical aids to augment the experience.   With their 25 cents admission fee the people would also receive a pamphlet that reprinted contemporary critics’ praise of Church’s picture and offered exhibition-goers the opportunity to purchase a print of the work.   Within a fortnight of the exhibition’s opening more than a hundred thousand people had paid to see it.  Art critics lavished praise on the work describing it as “the finest oil picture ever painted on this side of the Atlantic.”    After this success in New York the painting was taken to a number of American cities before it made two tours of Britain and was exhibited at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris where it won a prize

The painting now hangs in the The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC

Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand

Kindred Spirits by Asher B Durand (1849)

A few days ago (February 4th), I gave you a landscape painting by the American (although born in England) artist Thomas Cole.  Today, My Daily Art Display, relates to three men, a poet and two artists, both of the Hudson River School of painting, one of whom, Thomas Cole, was the founder.  Today’s work of art is not a painting by Thomas Cole but one in which he is depicted.

The Hudson River School paintings are among America’s most admired and well-loved artworks. Such artists as Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt left a powerful legacy to American art, embodying in their epic works the reverence for nature and the national idealism that prevailed during the middle of the 19th century.  The Hudson River School artists shared an awe of the magnificence of nature as well as a belief that the untamed American scenery reflected the national character. Members of the school shared their iconography and responded to one another’s paintings.  Their works of art reflected nineteenth-century American cultural, intellectual, and social backgrounds. It is interesting to study paintings by this group of artists and discover how they represented the landscape and look at their depictions of weather, light, and season.

Thomas Cole died an untimely death from pneumonia in 1848 at the age of forty-seven and the poet and his good friend William Cullen Bryant gave a eulogy of Cole which touched the hearts of many, including the wealthy New York dry-goods merchant and art collector Jonathan Sturgess.   In appreciation of Bryant’s tribute, he commissioned the painter Asher Durand to capture the friendship of Cole and Bryant and incorporate it into an America landscape, similar to one which often featured in one of Cole’s paintings.

Asher Brown Durand was also an American painter of the Hudson River School.  He was born in Jefferson Village, now known as Maplewood, New Jersey in 1796.  His father was a watchmaker and silversmith.  He came from a large family being the eighth of eleven children.  Initially he followed in his father’s footsteps and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed as an engraver.  He was very successful in his career and his reputation as an engraver was enhanced when he was commissioned to engrave John Trumbull’s painting The Declaration of Independence.

During the late 1820’s and the early 1830’s Durand’s interest moved away from engraving to oil painting.  In 1837 he and Thomas Cole went on a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and this enforced his love of landscape art.  He spent many summers sketching in the Catskills and the White Mountains of New Hampshire during which time he drew hundreds of sketches and drawings.

The commission from Jonathan Sturgess in 1849 set the task for Durand to create a painting which would show  Cole and his poet friend Bryant as “kindred spirits” which was inspired by John Keats’ “Sonnet to Solitude” which celebrates how aspects of nature enhance our lives, and ends:

Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Those words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s a pleasure; and sure it must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Sturgess also wanted the backdrop of this painting to be typical of Thomas Cole’s landscapes.  

My Daily Art Display today is Kindred Spirits painted in 1849 by Asher Durand and was considered to be one of the best works of the Hudson River School.  It shows Cole and Bryant engulfed by the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains of New York state.  As was the case in many of the paintings of the Hudson River school this painting was a tribute to American nature and to the two men who had celebrated its unique exquisiteness.  It was an idealized composition which brought together scenes from several sites around that area and fashioned them into one panorama.  So the scene itself was not real in itself but brought together all that was best in the Catskill Mountain area.

The painting, once completed, was given to the New York Public library by Bryant’s daughter Julie where it remained until it was sold in a blind auction at Sotheby’s  in 2005 to a private collector, Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress for $35 million, which at the time was a record amount for a painting by an American Artist.

And finally for those of you who took a look at My Daily Art Display on February 2nd when I was showcasing La Lecture by Pablo Picasso.  I mentioned it was up for sale with a guide price of between £12million and £18million pounds.  Last night at Sotheby’s, London it sold for £25,241,250.  Anybody fancy taking up art as a hobby ?

American Lake Scene by Thomas Cole

American Lake Scene by Thomas Cole (1844)

In the mid nineteenth century a group of American landscape painters got together to form a group whose inspiration was the pride they had in the beauty of their homeland.  They were influenced by the Romanticism Movement that flourished at that time in Europe and many of this newly formed group had studied there and were familiar with the plein-air Barbizon School painters who had become very popular with both American patrons and collectors.  The early leaders of this Hudson River Movement were Thomas Doughty, Asher Durand and the artist which is featured in today’s My Daily Art Display, Thomas Cole.   This group of painters concentrated their art work on the Catskill, Adirondack and White Mountains areas and all along the Hudson River valley.  These were often untouched areas of great natural beauty.  There were three main themes reflected in the Hudson River School artists.  They wanted to depict in their works of art,  the discovery, exploration and the settlement of this area of America.  For most of these artists there was a devout belief that nature in the form of the American Landscape was an indescribable expression of God.  These artists would travel extensively through the sometimes inhospitable areas surrounding the Hudson Valley with its extreme environment just to be able to sketch and memorise the wild and rugged beauty of nature and then return to the safer surroundings of home where they would transfer their memories on to canvas.  Often their works of art, although painted with realism, would be made up of a combination of the many scenes they had witnessed during their wanderings in the wilderness.

Today’s artist Thomas Cole, although now looked upon as an American artist, was actually born in 1801 in Bolton in Lancashire, England.   He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School.  His family emigrated to America when he was seventeen and settled down in Steubenville, Ohio.  Cole started his artistic career, studying portraiture but achieved little success with his finished works.  It was then that he turned to landscape painting.  In his early twenties he moved around a great deal, living in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before rejoining his parents in New York.  Whilst in New York he made an artistic breakthrough when he sold some of his landscape paintings to George Bruen, a prominent figure in the business and financial circles of New York.  So impressed was he by Cole’s work he funded the artist,  so that he could travel to the Hudson Valley and carry out some more paintings of that area.  On his return Cole displayed some of his art work, which he had completed, in a bookstore window.  The artist John Trumbull saw the paintings, bought one and put Cole in contact with some of his wealthy friends who became his most important patrons. 

The Thomas Cole House in Catskill

After this Thomas Cole never looked back and his reputation as a landscape artist grew.  He had a studio on the Cedar Grove farmstead in the town of Catskill, New York at which he completed most of his works of art.  In 1836, aged thirty five, he married Maria Bartow, who was the niece of the farmstead owner and they had five children.  Thomas Cole died in 1848, aged forty seven, at Catskill and the fourth highest peak in the Catskill Range mountain range was named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honour and his studio at the Cedar Grove farm became known as the Thomas Cole House and was declared a National Historic Site in 1999 which has been opened up to the public.

My Daily Art Display offering today is Thomas Cole’s oil on canvas painting entitled American Lake Scene which he completed in 1844, four years before his premature death, and which can be seen in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  If you look closely you will be able to make out a lone Native American sitting under the tree contemplating the tranquillity of the lake.  In this painting the clever use of colour and the natural setting adds to the atmospheric calmness and beauty of the scene.  Of this painting one art critic of the time said that the painting “looks like the earth before God breathed on it

This painting and many of his others was how Thomas Cole would have liked those pioneering days to have been as he was a great opponent of the railroad’s push into the heart of America destroying God’s beautiful landscape.  I believe, like Thomas Cole, we should try and appreciate and preserve more of the natural beauty of our countryside and fervently hope that the march to industrialism does not destroy all that we love.