- HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PANORAMIC RIVER
the Hudson and the Thames
- THE HUDSON RIVER
Four Panoramic Viewsheds
- PRINT SERIES
As Panoramic Vision
- PAINTING RIVERS
The Hudson and The Thames
The Panoramic River brings together a group of riverscapes that shows the strong visual relationship between rivers and the panoramic paintings that present them in wide-angled and magnificent views. Moving back and forth across the Atlantic as visitors or immigrants, British and American artists found familiar tastes and subjects in riverscapes.
Iconic rivers for their countries, the Hudson and the Thames have much in common. Both estuaries, the tide is part of their identities and both secured for their principal cities, London and New York, dominant roles on the world stage. In New York, artists often highlighted the Hudson, a main artery of the country since Colonial times, just as British artists lavished their attentions on Father Thames. Whether calling their works panoramas, bird’s-eye, aerial or perspective views, the artists in The Panoramic River promoted a new, all-embracing way of looking at the world around us.
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The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue have been made possible by a generous grant from the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc.
The importance of the Hudson as a water highway meant that artists had easy access to scenic Hudson Valley vistas within a day trip of New York City, even before the 1851 completion of the Hudson River Railroad along the east bank. While there were a number of locations along the Hudson for depicting panoramas, the area best known and most often of interest to artists was the navigable part of the river, from New York Harbor north to Troy.
The search for panoramic vistas led to a series of iconic views of the Hudson, which were repeated over and over again by 19th-century artists. Four distinct geographic areas, seen in this gallery, serve as particularly good examples of views famous with artists and other tourists: New York Harbor, which emphasized the contrast of nature and urbanity; the Palisades, which contained sharply angled views of the riverbank; the Tappan Zee, where the Hudson widened into a glassy lake; and the Hudson Highlands, which overwhelmed the senses with stunning mountain scenery and a deep picture plane.
American 19th-century print series trace their lineage to British topographical art. In England, landscape prints for bourgeois consumers, not a few wealthy patrons, were part of a tradition dating to Dutch Art of the 1600s. Painters, engravers and publishers collaborated to depict the Thames, from modest book illustrations to grand portfolios of topographical prints. In the United States, artists and printmakers, some actually British travelers, followed suit with similar publications in praise of the Hudson. All of these prints invoked the imagination of the audience as participants in a journey through river countryside ranging from the picturesque to the sublime.
Most of the scenes in this gallery are topographical, designed with the picturesque in mind, but also the presentation of facts. The topographical view, as opposed to more classical landscape mode, embodies the visual language of actual places, for actual places were their subjects of interest. The accurate depiction of a place, often from above to survey a broader scope, served many purposes, from planning military moves and making maps to recoding scientific discoveries and depicting country estates. Before photography, topographical depiction was the means for artists to bring scenic views, near and far, to armchair or travelers.
English culture had a pivotal influence on the Hudson River School painters. Several artists, such as Thomas Cole and Robert Havell, Jr., had emigrated from Britain — in the case of Havell after an engraving career in London. Cole made return trips to Britain to visit antiquarian sites and explore art galleries. American-born artists, such as Jasper F. Cropsey and John F. Kensett, also traveled abroad, where they studied art in London, toured England’s renowned landscape and landmarks, and even exhibited their own works.
From city to countryside, British and American painters favored Thames and Hudson vistas, where panoramic picture planes and historical associations gave new form to artistic and cultural expression. The geography and culture of each river contributed different panoramic views and fostered differences in American and English art. The Hudson Valley’s many peaks provided painters with craggy overlooks from which to view the river. The banks of the Thames were far gentler, and American artists traveling in England favored climbing elevated sites, like Richmond Hill, to achieve a panoramic perspective. The domesticated English countryside surrounding the Thames was its artistic strength, its land bathed in mists and haze, while brighter Hudson River skies illuminated a more muscular scenery.
Highlights from The Panoramic River