How I came to appreciate the Hudson River School of art

August 30, 2009
Jessica DuLong profile photo
Jessica DuLong

“Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New-York Historical Society,” presents 81 drawings and watercolors from the mid-16th century to the present, with subjects including natural scenery, original settlements and citizenry as well as historical events, including the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The show will be up at Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center through Nov. 1.

My own appreciation of the Hudson River School artists came through falling for the Hudson itself. When I found myself missing the river on a cold, rainy day in February, I decided to look for it among the paintings at the New-York Historical Society.

Standing in a warm gallery, I caught myself shivering before a painting: Winter Twilight Near Albany, NY (1858). “It was the depth of winter and it struck me that I had never seen a winter landscape painted just as I saw it,” George Henry Boughton said about his piece. So he gathered his oil paints and crunched over the hard-crusted snow. Then, with cold-cramped hands, he captured the scraggly, leafless branches, the dry grasses and rocks poking through the frozen white, the stillness of the river in its dormancy—its wintertime quiescence. Having worked on the fireboat’s engines in that kind of cold, I could picture him painting until his fingers stopped functioning—until he had to paw his brushes with frozen digits clamped together for warmth.

Photo: Nicolino Calyo’s gouache of the great fire of 1835. The fire, which destroyed much of Lower Manhattan, was sketched the same night.