When we open ourselves to art, we open ourselves to the world – to beauty, craft, to different cultures, to pain and pleasure, expression and emotion.

Painting a Nation: Hudson River School Landscapes from the Higdon Collection

Autumn Afternoon, Greenwood Lake, 1873, by Jasper Francis Cropsey

This winter the Gibbes Museum of Art is exhibiting the magnificent private collection of Charleston residents Ann and Lee Higdon in the exhibition Painting a Nation: Hudson River School Landscapes from the Higdon Collection. The collection features significant American artists including Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford, Jasper Francis Cropsey, William Hart, William Trost Richards, and many others. Painting a Nation will be on view at the Gibbes December 2, 2016–April 23, 2017, followed by a tour to three additional museums throughout the southeast.

Natives of New York, Ann and Lee Higdon developed an interest in art during their teenage years. They often visited museums and found themselves drawn to paintings of the Hudson River School. After marrying and purchasing a nineteenth-century home overlooking the Hudson, they began to collect paintings of the Hudson River School in the 1980s. For nearly forty years their interest in this artistic period has endured, resulting in the collection of works on view in this exhibition.

Assembled with a discerning eye for quality, the Higdon Collection includes superb examples of Hudson River School paintings, the first native school of painting in the United States. The majority of the works depict scenes of New York state and the northeast region, though several works, such as Albert Bierstadt’s Cathedral Rocks, A View of Yosemite, ca. 1872, find their subjects farther afield. Together, these paintings celebrate the picturesque beauty of our nation and reflect the collective desire of the Hudson River painters to develop a uniquely American visual language, independent of European schools of painting.

Cathedral Rocks, A View of Yosemite, ca. 1872, by Albert Bierstadt
Cathedral Rocks, A View of Yosemite, ca. 1872, by Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830–1902); oil on paper mounted on canvas; 19 x 13 ¾ inches; Courtesy of the Higdon Collection

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American artists looked to Europe for both aesthetic themes and painterly methods of depicting the world around them. This began to change in the early decades of the nineteenth century as artists adapted European aesthetics to develop a distinctly American landscape narrative. This new mode of visual representation was first achieved by painters Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, considered leaders of the Hudson River School.

The name Hudson River School, originally intended to be disparaging, was coined to identify a group of landscape artists living in New York City, several of whom built homes on the Hudson River. The term has evolved beyond regional expression and is now generally accepted to describe nineteenth-century American landscape painting.

The Higdon Collection includes paintings of the Hudson River, Lake George, and the Adirondack Mountains region. These areas of New York were popular tourist destinations in the nineteenth century and were celebrated by artists, tourists, and writers alike for their awe-inspiring natural beauty. The second generation of Hudson River School painters—many of whose works are in the Higdon Collection—extended the visual vocabulary to include subjects along the Atlantic Coast and Far West, reflecting the expansion of the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. The Higdon Collection also includes a selection of still-life paintings that complement Hudson River landscape themes by interpreting nature in an indoor setting.

The Gibbes will host several great programs in conjunction with the Painting a Nation exhibition. Join us on January 18 at 6pm for a lecture by renowned Hudson River School scholar Linda S. Ferber of the New-York Historical Society. Also join us on February 22 at 6pm when the Charleston Symphony Orchestra will present musical selections inspired by the paintings on view. It is sure to be an exceptional evening.

—Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Top Image: Autumn Afternoon, Greenwood Lake, 1873, by Jasper Francis Cropsey (American, 1823–1900); oil on canvas; 11 x 19 ½ inches; Courtesy of the Higdon Collection

Published December 7, 2016

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