As American artists in the early 19th century sought a style and cultural identity unique to the new nation, the first identifiable movement emerged in the Hudson Valley. This became known as the Hudson River School. The paintings depicted the natural beauty of the area — idealizing it to a degree — and conveyed the underlying notion of America as a new Eden. The founder of the school was a painter named Thomas Cole, who first ventured up the river in 1825, eventually settling in Catskill. His most notable pupil was Frederic Edwin Church, who bought a house on the opposite bank near Hudson. Both homes exist almost exactly as they were, and are open to the public.
I found Cole’s Federal-style house, Cedar Grove, touching in its simplicity. Many of his works adorn the walls, and his adjacent studio is filled with a clutter of papers, sketches, palettes, paints and brushes. The visitor center shows an informative video that makes a fine prelude to a tour. Cole believed that “… the enlightened of all ages and nations have found pleasure and consolation in the beauty of the rural earth,” and in many ways, he was one of the nation’s first conservationists.
218 Spring Street, Catskill. Tel. (518) 943-7465.
Frederic Edwin Church
Cole’s student Frederic Church was born into a wealthy Hartford, Connecticut, family, which enabled him to indulge his passion for art. He proved an adept pupil. Eventually, he struck out on his own, opening a studio in New York in 1849 after Cole’s untimely death. Church’s wanderlust took him to Europe, South America, the Arctic and the Middle East. The latter fascinated him and inspired “Olana,” his home, studio and grounds. Built on a hilltop where he and Cole had often sketched, the house is a Persian fantasy with turrets, handpainted tiles and carved panels. The 250-acre landscape was purposely designed by Church to great effect.
5720 Route 9G, Hudson. Tel. (518) 828-0135.