Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Transcendentalism & the Hudson River Painters

      When we look at mid-nineteenth century literature the prevalent style of the times was Transcendentalism. Hand-in-hand with the visions and philosophies of the Transcendentalists was a group of artists belonging to the Hudson River School of art, the Hudson River painters. These two groups often shared in the same dream, their goals and themes overlapping. Let's have a closer look, shall we?

Henry David Thoreau
      Transcendentalism was a literary movement that is characterized by an emphasis on intuition and the individual conscience. They believed that these qualities "transcend" experience and serve as better guides to the senses than can logic and reason. The Transcendentalists were heavily influenced by the thoughts and ideologies of the earlier writers of the Romanticism period. Like the Romantic writers, the Transcendentalists praised the individual spirit and the lush beauty of the natural world. To them, divinity was everywhere, within each individual and especially in nature. Among the Transcendentalists were writers such as Henry David Thoreau, W. H. Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller.

      The Hudson River School was essentially the very first coherent American school of art. Their prime focus was painting the great American landscape, the most popular form of American painting. The movement was set in motion by two of its most famous artists of the time, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. Heeding Emerson's words to "ignore the courtly Muses of Europe," the Hudson River painters set out to create a truly unique form of art, an American art. (Hampson)
1831, "A Wild Scene" By Thomas Cole
      The Hudson River painters were influenced by the divine essence of nature and the sweeping American landscape. Emerson struck a great chord with the Hudson River artists in his 1841 essay Thoughts on Art. He and the Hudson River artists agreed that painting should become a vehicle through which the universal mind could reach the mind of mankind. The Hudson River painters strongly believed that art was an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. The Hudson River painters also recognized the value of the individual and the allure and splendor of nature, often using light as a cleaver tool to communicate the divinity of nature, a style that would later be employed by the artists of the Luminist and Romantic movements. The Hudson River painters set out to create an artistic representation of the very thing the Transcendentalists were writing about. (Hampson)  

1849, "Kindred Spirits" By Asher B. Durand
      The writings and paintings of the mid-nineteenth century share a similar vision and philosophy. The Transcendentalists influenced the art world with their style and message, and the Hudson River painters gave an artistic voice to the ideologies and representations of the Transcendentalist mission. Together these two movements worked in unison to shape the thoughts of mid-nineteenth America.

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