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Renowned collection of Hudson River School paintings visits Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire, 1836, Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, 1858.3


BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Painters of the so-called Hudson River School in the mid-19th century became known for their romantic work celebrating the American landscape. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will present a special exhibition of 45 masterworks by Hudson River School artists on loan from the New-York Historical Society, opening May 5 and on view through September 3, 2012.

The exhibit, titled The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, will be presented in the galleries currently occupied by Wonder World, an exhibition featuring contemporary works from the museum's permanent collection, which closed April 2. Admission to the exhibition will be free to Crystal Bridges members, and $5 per person for non-members. There will be no charge for guests under age 18.

"We are delighted with this unique opportunity to present such a distinguished and important collection for our Members and guests," said Don Bacigalupi, Crystal Bridges executive director. "The Hudson River School celebrates the landscapes around them in these spectacular works, creating a milestone American movement that we also sought to highlight in the Museum's own permanent collection. This exhibition is the perfect complement."

The New-York Historical Society organized the exhibition with works selected from their rich collections of 19th-century American landscape painting. The exhibition was designed to travel while the society's galleries were closed during renovations, offering an unprecedented opportunity to share works that have rarely traveled. The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision includes Thomas Cole's legendary five-part series: The Course of Empire and other masterworks by Cole, John F. Kensett, Albert Bierstadt, Jasper F. Cropsey, Asher B. Durand and many others. This exhibition at Crystal Bridges will be the last time these works are on display outside of the New-York Historical Society. The New-York Historical Society reopened, coincidentally, on the same date Crystal Bridges opened: 11-11-11.

Linda Ferber, New-York Historical Society senior art historian and curator of the exhibition, and Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at Crystal Bridges, will participate in special programs including a private preview and a lecture for Crystal Bridges members.

"The New-York Historical Society houses one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of landscape paintings by artists of the Hudson River School. We welcome this unique opportunity to share these treasures with a national audience," Ferber said.

The Hudson River School emerged during the second quarter of the 19th century in New York City. There, a loosely knit group of artists and writers forged the first self-consciously American landscape vision and literary voice. That American vision—still widely influential today—was grounded in a view of the natural world as a source of spiritual renewal and an expression of national identity. This vision was first expressed through the magnificent scenery of the Hudson River Valley region, including the Catskills, which was accessible to writers, artists and sightseers via traffic on the great river that gave the school its name.

The exhibition shows how American artists embodied powerful ideas about nature, culture and history—including the belief that a special providence was manifest to Americans in the continent's sublime landscape.

Artists painted the Catskill, Adirondack and White Mountain regions, which became celebrated for their scenic beauty and historic sites, as well as views of Lake George, Niagara Falls and the New England countryside. These destinations that most powerfully attracted both artists and travelers, who created an "American Grand Tour" to rival travel to Europe. Artists also memorialized the Hudson River itself as the gateway to the touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.

Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Martin Johnson Heade sought inspiration further from home. These globe-trotting painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and thrilled audiences exotic and grand with images of the landscape wonders of such far-flung places as the American frontier, Yosemite Valley and South America.

Europe, (and particularly Italy) remained a destination for artists such as Cole, Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford, who celebrated Italy as the center of the Old World. Viewed as the storehouse of Western culture, Italy was a living laboratory of the past, with its cities, galleries, and countryside offering a survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity, as well as a striking contrast to the wilderness vistas of North America portrayed by these same artists.

All of these ideas converge in Thomas Cole's five-painting series The Course of Empire (c. 1834-36), imagining the rise of a great civilization from an unspoiled landscape, and the ultimate decay of that civilization into ruins scattered in the same wilderness. These celebrated paintings explore the tension between Americans' deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress, recapitulating the larger story told in Nature and the American Vision.






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