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The First American Art Movement

Generations are often defined by the art movements of their times. Realist painters like Edward Hopper and Regionalists like Grant Wood made impressions on the Silent Generation with their honest portrayals of American life during the Great Depression. The Baby Boomers after them saw the rise of Abstract Expressionism with the rebellious, nontraditional works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Then, as technology advanced around Generations X and Y, so too did the creative process (think Photorealism and the Digital Age). Before all of this, in the middle of the 19th century, our culture was influenced by the first American art movement — one led by landscape painter Thomas Cole, who was inspired by the sublime natural settings of the Hudson River Valley, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. His pupils, including Frederic Edwin Church, Asher Durand, Sanford Robinson Gifford and John Frederick Kensett, painted pastoral settings where humans peacefully coexisted with nature.

View on the Catskill — Early Autumn by Thomas Cole 
View on the Catskill—Early Autumn by Cole Thomas

The impact of the Hudson River School extends far beyond the boundaries of New York State: to New Hampshire, Maine, the American West, even Europe and Asia — all of which served as the inspiration for and subjects of pieces by the Hudson River School painters. What’s more, their portrayals of idyllic countrysides led to the emergence of our national identity independent of Europe, influenced the settling of the American West and contributed to the creation of the earliest national parks (the first being Yellowstone in Wyoming, thanks to paintings of that area by Thomas Moran). Church, Kensett and Gifford are even credited as the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the US and one of the many locations in New York State where Hudson River School masterpieces are on display.

We’ve broken down each location by Region, so no matter where you are in the State you can admire the art that has left a lasting mark on our culture.



  • The Albany Institute of History & Art examines the American landscape and the Hudson River School with an exhibit called “The Making of the Hudson River School: More than the Eye Beholds.” The exhibit runs through August 18, 2013 and includes works by Cole, Church and Durand.



  • The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, also known as Cedar Grove, is the former home and studio of the Hudson River School founder. Visitors can take a guided tour of his home and view the current exhibition, “Albert Bierstadt in New York and New England,” available through November 3, 2013. From Cedar Grove, guests can also take a guided hike through the Hudson River Art Trail to explore 16 sites in the Hudson River Valley that inspired the School’s painters.



  • The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie holds Church’s “Autumn in North America” painting as part of its 19th Century America Collection.

  • Olana State Historic Site in Hudson is where Church lived with his wife and children between 1861 and 1900. It is a Persian-style home that sits atop a rolling hill overlooking the Hudson River and the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Incorporated into the home’s decor, as Church designated it, are works by Church and other Hudson River School painters.



  • The Brooklyn Museum houses a permanent collection of Hudson River School paintings as part of “American Identities: A New Look, American Landscape/Colony to Nation.” The artists featured include Cole, John William Casilear, Thomas Doughty, Francis Augustus Silva, Albert Bierstadt and Jarvis McEntee.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan has an exhibit running through September 2, 2013 in the American Wing: “The Civil War and American Art.” There, you can see works by Cole and Church.

  • The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan holds one of the nation’s preeminent collections of the Hudson River School, with paintings by Cole, Church, Gifford, Kensett, Bierstadt, Asher Durand, Jasper F. Cropsey and John F. Kensett.


To make sure that you won’t miss any opportunity to explore the Hudson River  School movement, we’ll be keeping tabs on these collections and others that may open across the State. Any and all updates will be shared on the NYSOM Magazine, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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