En Plein Air: The 400th Anniversary of the Hudson River Valley's Exploration

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration of the Hudson River Valley, the Upstate New York region where the first noted school of American artists settled in the early 19th century and made famous through their large-scale landscape paintings. In honor of this group—the Hudson River School painters, led by Thomas Cole and carried on by the likes of Asher B. Durand, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, and Sanford Gifford—and the explorer after which the valley is named, numerous art organizations and associations are hosting exhibitions, paint outs, and events to commemorate Hudson’s discovery.

Merced River, Yosemite Valley
by Albert Bierstadt, 1866, oil, 36 x 50. Collection The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, New York.

If you have been considering a trip to the Catskill region of New York, this yearlong quadrincentennial celebration is a great time during which to visit and discover the landscape-painting tradition that put the Hudson River Valley on the map. There are several historic sites that will take you back in time and give you a glimpse of the vistas that enthralled Cole, Church, and the other Hudson River School painters, including Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove, where the artist lived and painted from 1836 until his untimely death in 1848; Olana, the spectacular Persian-style home and studio of Frederic Edwin Church—who was a student of Cole—located just over today's Rip Van Winkle Bridge from Cole’s house; and the Hudson River School Art Trail, which charts a course through some of the significant sites from which many of the Hudson River School artists created their most famous paintings. I visited both Cedar Grove and Olana last year and was amazed to discover that the views the original Hudson River School artists painted nearly 200 years ago have essentially remained unchanged, thanks in large part to the “forever wild clause" established in the New York State Constitution in the late 19th century.

Some local events being held to celebrate Hudson’s voyage, the legacy of the Hudson River School, and the contemporary plein air movement in the region include the 9th Annual Painters On Location paint-out and auction, sponsored by the Rye Arts Center and the Hudson Valley Art Association and featuring more than 40 professional plein air painters painting select Hudson Valley sites on September 25 and 26; as well as “The Banks of the Hudson,” an exhibition at the Woodstock School of Art that will showcase paintings inspired by, or depicting, the Hudson River, on view August 8 through September 5 and juried by American Artist's editor-in-chief, M. Stephen Doherty. To celebrate the talent of the original Hudson River School, The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is mounting an exhibition titled “The Hudson River to Niagara Falls: 19th-Century American Landscape Paintings From the New-York Historical Society,” which will be on view July 11 through December 13.

Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy
by Frederic Edwin Church, 1852, oil, 21 13/16 x 31 15/16.
Collection Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.

John A. Parks—a professional painter and writer who resides in the Hudson Valley and has written several art-historical pieces for American Artist and our quarterlies—has developed an extensive article about the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage and the history of the Hudson River School painters, which will appear in the September issue of American Artist. Be sure to read the article before making your trip upstate to bring a well-informed, insightful eye to the region that Frederic Edwin Church proclaimed had the most beautiful light in the world. (And don’t forget to bring your pochade box!)

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Plein Air Painting Blog
Allison Malafronte

About Allison Malafronte

Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist magazines, and the project editor of  Plein Air Painting and Workshop With the Masters magazines. She is also the creative manager of the Weekend With the Masters Workshop & Conference (www.aamastersweekend.com) which was launched in 2009 and is now in its third year. She is author of the Art for Thought column in American Artist magazine (also on the Artist Daily site under The Artist's Life blog) and the 2008-2010 Plein Air blogs on Artist Daily. 

5 thoughts on “En Plein Air: The 400th Anniversary of the Hudson River Valley's Exploration

  1. Whoo Hoo! These are magnificent paintings!

    Church did a plein air painting of the rocks at Sand Beach (Acadia NP), and it thrills me each time I stand in the same place where he painted and take in the same hillsides, mountains and lakes that he did.

    What a privilege we have to be able to experience these beautiful natural delights.

  2. A few years ago there was a traveling exhibit in the Phoenix Art Museum of quite a few of the Hudson River School paintings; I loved it! It would have been fantastic to see the vistas available during those times, and I’m so glad these artists recorded that era!

  3. Thanks Lori–do you paint in the Hudson Valley often? If so, what are some of your favorite spots?

    I agree Kinnally–the great thing is that a lot of these vistas have remained the same! I hope you can make it up to the Hudson Valley to see them some day.

  4. This sounds wonderful.
    As a lifelong upstate NY’er, I miss the hills and valleys, so remarkably splendid.
    The last time I drove through there, was during a thunderstorm , complete with lightening that ‘sketched’ right down to meet the river. It was so hard to keep my eyes on the road !
    The hail hitting the car helped keep me in focus.
    What a glorious painting that would have been !
    The drama unfolding, as nature created.