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Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art


The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University opens an exhibition of masterpieces from one of the world's foremost collections of Hudson River School paintings on October 8, 2003. This selection of 55 paintings includes 10 by Thomas Cole, 11 by Frederic Edwin Church and five by Albert Bierstadt. The exhibition Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art continues through January 18, 2004 at Stanford, then travels to six other museums across the U.S.

"The Hudson River School represents the nation's first native school of landscape painting. These works celebrated the grandeur of American scenery, encouraging citizens to visit natural wonders like Niagara Falls, the Catskill Mountains, and the Yosemite Valley. Hudson River School paintings were connected to a broad range of social, economic, and political developments during their time-from the building of railroads and the settlement of the wilderness to the growth of the United States into a world power," explained Claire Perry, the Cantor Arts Center curator of American art responsible for the exhibition at Stanford.

The core of this Hudson River school collection was formed by two major patrons of American artists who lived in Hartford, Connecticut: Daniel Wadsworth (1771­1848), a devoted traveler, amateur artist and architect, and founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum, and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt (1826­1905), widow of arms manufacturer Samuel Colt. Many works were commissioned for their personal enjoyment. Due to their patronage, the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection reflects the evolving aesthetic sensibilities of two generations of Hudson River school painters. In turn, the works reveal the emerging sense of an American national identity, which was also evident in the writings of 19th-century authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Fenimore Cooper.

The origins of the Hudson River school traditionally are attributed to Thomas Cole, who was born in England and raised in Ohio before arriving in New York City in 1825. Cole was a more cerebral painter than his predecessors, and he used his art as a moral as well as aesthetic platform. Breaking from the traditional, European taste for manicured pastoral views, Cole depicted the virginal, primeval wilderness of the American northeast. It was a paradise already lost, however, for Native Americans had been chased from their lands, white settlements had been long established, and tourism was beginning to boom.

Wadsworth introduced 17-year-old Hartford native and aspiring artist Frederic Church to Thomas Cole, who made Church his sole apprentice. Wadsworth then purchased Church's first mature painting, Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford in 1636 (created in1846), for $130, acquiring it for the newly founded Wadsworth Atheneum. Church was then 20 years of age. Later, during the Civil War, Church advised Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt in assembling an impressive private picture gallery for her mansion, Armsmear, in Hartford. He introduced her to Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford, John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, and others, from whom she commissioned paintings.

Free Tours

Docents give free tours of the exhibition throughout its run at Stanford on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. No reservation is needed. For groups of 10 or more, call 650-723-3469 to schedule private tours.

Free Lectures

Bryan Wolf, Professor in American Art and Culture, Stanford University, presents a lecture about Hudson River school painting on Sunday, October 12 at 3 p.m., in Annenberg Auditorium. Admission is free. During the course of the exhibition, other distinguished scholars will give lectures on topics related to the Hudson River school. Details will be announced, or contact Jeanie Lawrence at 650-723-0104.

About the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The quality and range of fine and decorative arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum place it among the dozen greatest art museums in the United States. Its world-renowned collections include Old Master paintings, modernist masterpieces, 19th-century French and Impressionist paintings, Meissen and SËvres porcelains, costumes and textiles, American furniture and decorative arts of the Pilgrim Century through the Gilded Age, and the vanguard of contemporary art.

The Wadsworth Atheneum is named for its founder, the arts patron and philanthropist Daniel Wadsworth (1771­1848), and after the Athenaeum in Rome (itself named for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom). Established in 1842, the Wadsworth Atheneum is America's oldest public art museum, preceding the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston by three decades. It was the first American museum to acquire works by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Frederic Church, Salvador DalÌ, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Piet Mondrian, Joseph Cornell, and Max Ernst. As it has always done, the museum collects work by contemporary artists in a variety of media.

The exhibition is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, from its permanent collection. The national tour of Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is sponsored by MetLife Foundation. The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition is published by Yale University Press. The exhibition's presentation at Stanford is supported by an Anonymous Donor and the Cantor Arts Center members.

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