Searching for a national style of art, the American landscape itself became the main focus of the Hudson River School painters. American expansion and Manifest Destiny gave the untamed countryside the symbolism of the country’s promised prosperity and limitless resources. The land provided an alternative to European culture and history. It became a picturesque, patriotic, and inspirational theme.
Painters of the Hudson River School explored the nation and then returned to their New York studios to paint large works that thrilled audiences and celebrated the awesome power of nature and the progress of man. Like Romantic painters in Britain and Germany, Hudson River School artists embraced the landscape as a meaningful subject at the same time that industrialization began to change it and reshape man’s connection to his environment. The Americans both celebrated this modernization and lamented what was lost in the name of “progress.”
Generations of American painters had returned to Europe for training and adopted the styles and subjects of Europe’s Old World artists. The Hudson River School painters wanted to paint recognizably American scenes. Personally and professionally, they formed networks with writers and philosophers to create a distinct American culture. Artists like Thomas Cole transformed the landscape into allegories that were immersive and transformative experiences for the viewer. The paintings could be appreciated on both intellectual and emotional levels through their careful attention to realism and awe-inspiring vistas.
The second generation of Hudson River School painters left the New York area to explore the American frontiers. Their painting documented westward expansion and reinforced the concept of Manifest Destiny. During the Civil War, their majestic images of an unspoiled West provided hope for post-war reconciliation and the promise of expanses of wild country, unscarred by battle.
Source: The Hudson River School
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