History of Western Art
University of North Carolina

The Hudson River School Painters

by Lynn Salerno


The paintings by Thomas Cole, Asher Durand and Frederick Church reveal the extent to which the Hudson River School was uniquely American. The landscape of America provided a rich and varied subject matter from which each of the three artists drew inspiration. Cole's paintings were dramatic and moody, such as seen in his Landscape with Tree Trunks. Durand's work was romantic, yet it had a softer, more intimate quality, his painting Kindred Spirits is an example of this. Church's painting Niagara Falls shows his skill at capturing the drama and power of nature in art.

The Hudson River School painters embraced nature and the American landscape as a worthy subject of representation. Thomas Cole painted the land with a sense of the dramatic energies found in nature. His work, Landscape with Tree Trunks, shows a fierce storm brewing in the distance that is about to sweep across the rugged landscape. His use of color and tone unifies the composition and establishes the mood.

Asher Durand's work shows the landscape of America in a different light. He was an engraver and used his abilities to capture the precise details of nature. Like Cole, Durand was a romantic, however, unlike Cole he often included a human element in his work. His painting Kindred Spirits is a quiet, reflective piece that shows two men in harmony with nature. Durand's landscapes showed nature as a welcome place for man to meditate in or explore, not to fear.

The paintings of Frederick Church show an evolution from earlier Hudson River painters like Cole and Durand. Church was concerned more with rendering the details of nature than with creating a mood. The work Niagara Falls, shows his ability to combine a simple design with dramatic lighting to create a powerful, lifelike image of nature.

The Hudson River school was uniquely American, with many artists exploring visually the unexplored vistas and terrain of the young country. Through Thomas Cole's eyes, the dramatic and sweeping power of a storm could be experienced by the viewer of his work. Asher Durand had similar romantic views, yet his work was more subtle and reflective, shifting the focus from the grand to the personal in landscape painting. Church's work moved away from the romantic views of earlier Hudson River painters, instead, he chose to explore a more realistic and objective American landscape. Each of these artists, Cole, Durand and Church contributed greatly to the understanding and appreciation of the American landscape in the nineteenth century.

Copyright Lynn Salerno, 1997-2016