Part 2 – James McDougal Hart and family.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.