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In celebration of its 18th anniversary, the Vero Beach Museum of Art proudly presents the exhibition A Wilder Image Bright: Hudson River School Paintings from the Manoogian Collection opening in the museum's Holmes Gallery on Saturday, January 31 and continuing through March 28, 2004. The Manoogian paintings are not only breathtakingly beautiful, but are also extremely important works of art, and as an ensemble, constitute the most significant exhibition of American art to take place in south Florida in recent years. (right: THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926), Under Trees (The Autumnal Woods), 1865, oil on canvas, 40 x 34 inches)
The Hudson River School is really the first coherent school of American art and helped shape the mythos of the American landscape. Beginning with the works of Thomas Cole, acknowledged founder and key figure in the establishment of school, landscape art became the prevalent genre of 19th century painting.
The Hudson River painters infused the American landscape with the dreams and ambitions of a young nation poised for greatness. This extraordinary exhibition incorporates approximately 35 paintings and will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue written and researched by Kevin Sharp, Director of Visual Arts, Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.
The catalog will be available for sale in the Museum Store throughout the exhibition. A members' preview takes place Friday, January, 30, 2004 beginning at 5 pm in the Leonhardt Auditorium featuring guest curator Kevin Sharp. The presentation will be followed by a reception and gallery opening until 7 pm.
The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of The Patten Endowment, Armstrong Society for the Arts, Windsor Properties, and The Anne F. Forbes Family Foundation. Additional support has been received from Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Stifel, Mr. and Mrs. John B. Ford, III, Dr. and Mrs. Henry L. Newnan, Mr. and Mrs. William O. Fleming, Christine Evans and Mary Ann Casey, and Mr. and Mrs. Edward Michael.
About the Hudson River School of Painting
The Hudson River School was a group of American landscape painters, working from 1825 to 1875.
The 19th-century romantic movements of England, Germany, and France were introduced to the United States by such writers as Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. At the same time, American painters were studying in Rome, absorbing much of the romantic aesthetic of the European painters. Adapting the European ideas about nature to a growing pride in the beauty of their homeland, for the first time a number of American artists began to devote themselves to landscape painting instead of portraiture. These artists were particularly attracted by the grandeur of Niagara Falls and the scenic beauty of the Hudson River valley, the Catskills, and the White Mountains The works of these artists reflected a new concept of wilderness -- one in which man was an insignificant intrusion in a landscape more beautiful than fearsome. (left: WILLIAM STANLEY HASELTINE (1835-1900), Summer Afternoon. Nahant Massachusetts, 1864, oil on canvas, 31 x 56 inches)
First of the group of artists properly classified with the Hudson River School was Thomas Doughty; his tranquil works greatly influenced later artists of the school. Albert Bierstadt glorified the Rocky Mountains in the West, working in the same manner as the painters in the East. Thomas Cole, whose dramatic and colorful landscapes are among the most impressive of the school, may be said to have been its leader during the group's most active years. Among the other important painters of the school are Asher B. Durand, J. F. Kensett, S. F. B. Morse, Henry Inman, Jasper Cropsey, Frederick E. Church, and, in his earlier work, George Inness.
A Wilder Image Bright and the Thanks of a Grateful Museum: A Director's Foreword
In 1829, as the young landscape painter Thomas Cole prepared for his first trip to Europe, the poet William Cullen Bryant penned a sonnet to commemorate his friend's departure. Cole had spent the last five years painting in the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains, and had almost single-handedly forged America's first native artistic tradition. Bryant was concerned that Cole might be seduced by the sophistication of English, French, and Italian cultures, and that the instinctive vigor of his American landscapes would be somehow lost or compromised. In the first lines of the sonnet, Bryant insisted that Cole would find European scenery not so very different than the American landscape: (left: MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE (1819-1904), Sunset on the Marshes, 1867, oil on canvas, 27 x 53 inches)
Bryant then offered an inventory of landscape motifs that he expected Cole to encounter, and that he would no doubt find familiar and justifiably appealing:
But Bryant knew there was one profound difference between European and American landscapes, and that was the inescapable influence of man. The English, French, and Italian cultivation of their native soil was admirable and centuries old, but it was also unavoidable:
To Bryant, European scenery was "fair but different." Any semblance of the pristine wilderness that America held in unexplored abundance had long ago been cleared, consumed, or raked into tidy gardens by generations of European culture. In the final couplet, Bryant offered his blessing to Cole, but also an unexpectedly firm recommendation:
Bryant's insistence that Cole keep a "wilder image bright" had everything to do with maintaining his personal vision in the face of Europe's myriad cultural influences. But it was also a reminder to Cole of America's rich potential and the possibility of every kind of greatness that lived within its borders. In the nineteenth century, the United States was yet considered a young and awkward behemoth of untold prospect and extraordinary resources. Bryant was determined that Cole would sail for Europe knowing that the greatest challenge he would ever face as a painter was describing the wonder of America's boundless possibility to its own people.
Cole was deeply affected by his three years in Europe, but the trip also confirmed the wisdom of Bryant's sonnet. Cole's landscape aesthetic grew more ambitious after his exposure to European art, but he always kept a "wilder image bright," and the light of his brilliant canvases became a beacon for eager followers. Asher B. Durand, although older than Cole, was the first to embrace his aesthetic ideals, followed by younger painters of such prodigious abilities as Frederick Kensett, Worthington Whittredge, Jasper Cropsey, George Inness, Frederic E. Church, Sanford Gifford, and later Martin Johnson Heade, Albert Bierstadt, William Stanley Haseltine, Thomas Moran, and James M. Hart, among others. Eventually dubbed the Hudson River School, most of these artists were enormously successful and became the popular celebrities of their age. But more importantly, they infused the American landscape with the dreams, ambitions, and desires of a young nation poised for greatness.
* * * *
During the last decade, the Vero Beach Museum of Art has experienced impressive growth in its physical space, in the scope of its programs, and in the importance of its permanent collection. Like Thomas Cole, we have come a long way in a short time, and our exhibitions and education initiatives reverberate across the cultural landscape of this community and the entire region. With A Wilder Image Bright: Hudson River School Paintings from the Manoogian Collection, the Vero Beach Museum of Art has taken another monumental stride in organizing and presenting perhaps the most important exhibition of nineteenth-century American paintings ever held in south Florida.
Surprisingly, it was not so long ago that the paintings of the Hudson River School were considered old-fashioned relics of a bygone era. It has taken scholars, museums, dealers, and insightful collectors to restore these extraordinary artists to their rightful place in American history. Richard Manoogian recognized early that these important canvases were indeed rich artifacts of America's past, and that they were also timeless expressions of values and aspirations that live as vividly today as they did in the nineteenth century. Over the past thirty-five years, Mr. and Mrs. Manoogian have assembled an unparalleled group of Hudson River School paintings, which they have graciously allowed the Vero Beach Museum of Art to exhibit as an ensemble for the first time. We offer our heartfelt thanks to the Manoogians for their extraordinary generosity, for their ongoing support of the Museum, and for providing our visitors with a remarkable opportunity to examine, to enjoy, and to learn.
A project of this magnitude requires the efforts of many, as well as contributions of time and money from dedicated supporters of the Vero Beach Museum of Art. We are blessed with a group of committed donors, whose generosity enriches so many lives in this community, just as it touches our visitors from across the country and around the world. We have been deeply gratified by the financial support this project has attracted. We owe sincere appreciation to The Patten Endowment, a generous sponsor of the Museum's Anniversary Exhibition for the past sixteen years. We are grateful to our corporate sponsor, Windsor Properties, to the many kind members of The Armstrong Society for the Arts, and to The Anne F. Forbes Family Foundation. Their ongoing support has made this project and many others possible at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. We would also like to thank Mr. and Mrs. John B. Ford III and Dr. and Mrs. Henry L. Newman for their additional support of this exhibition and catalogue.
This project has benefited greatly from the staff of the Masco Corporation, the company founded by Richard Manoogian's family. The unwavering support of Gene Gargaro has been instrumental not only in making this exhibition a reality, but in forging the satisfying relationship that now exists between the Masco Corporation and the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Curator Jonathon Boos has helped make the Manoogian Collection the finest private ensemble of American paintings in the world, and he has been an enthusiastic advocate of this endeavor from the start. Cheryl M. Robledo, Registrar and Exhibition Coordinator, has contributed in more ways than I can number, and Vera Novak has been a most pleasant contact. To them and to all the courteous staff at the Masco Corporate Headquarters, we extend our warmest thanks.
A significant voice in the study of American art, Kevin Sharp organized the exhibition and is the author of this exceptional catalogue. He has introduced his considerable expertise and professionalism to this project, and we are deeply grateful. Kevin Sharp has just been named Director of Visual Arts at the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon, Illinois, and we wish him all the best. The reliable staff of the Vero Beach Museum of Art has done outstanding work to bring this project to resolution. Curator Jennifer A. Bailey has managed the many details that go into an exhibition and publication with great skill and resourcefulness. Kelly Mahony, Registrar, Travis Childers, Preparator, Jim Liccione, Conservator, and our Director of Operations, Ron Brockway, and his staff also have contributed in meaningful ways. Thank you, and well done.
Many colleagues at museums, galleries, and libraries have contributed their knowledge and advice to this project. We wish there were space to express our gratitude more fully, but we offer our thanks to the following: Michael N. Altman, Michael N.Altman Fine Art, New York; Judith A. Barter, The Art Institute of Chicago; Susan Aprill, Brooklyn Public Library; Nancy Barr and Sylvia Inwood, Detroit Institute of Arts; Sylvia Yount and Melody Hanlon, High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Debbie Miller, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul; Anne Cassidy, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Marcia Erickson and Natalia Lonchyna, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Valerie A. Balint, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, N.Y.; and Christine Michelini, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass. We would also like to thank Kathy Fredrickson, Cheryl Towler Weese, Matt Simpson, Garrett Niksch, and Marty Maxwell at Studio Blue in Chicago for their design and production of this handsome book, and we gratefully acknowledge Kari Dahlgren and Erin Riordan for their editorial contributions.
One hundred seventy-five years after Thomas Cole's voyage to Europe, the United States is a much different nation. But just as William Cullen Bryant suggested in 1829, our future depends upon our willingness to grasp our own rich potential. With A Wilder Image Bright: Hudson River School Paintings from the Manoogian Collection, the Vero Beach Museum of Art has again expanded the boundaries of possibility.
John Z. Lofgren, PhD.
Title image is a detail from the cover of an announcement for the exhibition.
Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:
Also see the Hudson River School Painters article from AskArt.com accompanied by a list of notable Hudson Rive School artists.
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Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Vero Beach Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
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