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 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.