It’s hard to believe nowadays, but the Hudson River School wasn’t always cool. Tastes in art moved on, and then on again; it is said that as late as the 1960s, you could pick up a painting by one of its masters for a song at a garage sale. And despite the obvious kinship between the works of American Luminist landscape painters of the 19th century and their British counterparts, such as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, the Hudson River School isn’t nearly as familiar across the Pond as it perhaps ought to be.
But that’s about to change, thanks to an upcoming collaboration between New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s National Gallery. Intended to “establish Thomas Cole as a major artist of the 19th century within a global context,” a traveling exhibition of works by the Hudson River School founder will open on January 30 at the Met, then get packed up and shipped off to London in June.
Titled “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings,” the exhibition – curated by the Met’s Elizabeth Kornhauser, Yale University’s Tim Barringer and the National Gallery’s Christopher Riopelle – marks the 200th anniversary this year of the Lancashire-born painter’s first Atlantic crossing at age 17. Cole paid a return visit to England from 1829 to 1831, then traveled in Italy for a couple of years. His works during the years immediately after his return to New York, between 1832 and 1837, reflect his creative response to his experiences of British art and society and of Italian history and landscape.
Included in the show are several of his most famous works, including The Oxbow and The Course of Empire. Some of Cole’s paintings will be hung in direct juxtaposition with English works that he studied on his formative journey and with works by the next generation of American landscape painters whom he personally mentored, notably Asher Durand and Frederic Church. This exhibition will be the first ever to examine the artist’s career in relation to his European roots and travels.
Naturally, this is a very big deal for the people at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill. To celebrate the bicentennial of the artist’s immigration to the US, the New Studio at Cedar Grove will be hosting a series of Sunday Salons featuring scholars from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Department of Art History. The series kicks off on Sunday, January 7 with a lecture titled “Thomas Cole: On Paper,” presented by Nicholas Robbins, a PhD candidate in the History of Art at Yale University.
Thomas Cole left behind a vast archive – drawings, journals, letters, writings – that together attest to the central, formative role that paper played in his artistic development. Cole’s earliest works, completed before he began painting in 1825, include complex studies from nature, notebooks that recorded his readings in aesthetic theory and short stories published in journals. Seen together, these more private forms of thinking-on-paper capture his development as an artist and intellectual.
The Sunday Salons series continues on February 4 with “In the Footsteps of Thomas Cole,” presented by Shannon Vittoria, PhD, research associate at the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On March 4, Jennifer Raab, PhD, assistant professor in the History of Art at Yale University, will lecture on “Frederic Church in Thomas Cole’s Catskills.” And on April 8, Sophie Lynford, PhD candidate in the History of Art at Yale will present “Idyllic and Industrial Visions: Thomas Cole, William Guy Wall and the Hudson River.”
All Sunday Salons run from 2 to 3 p.m. Admission costs $12 general, $10 for members. The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is located at 218 Spring Street in Catskill. Monthly winter tours of Cole’s home at the Catskill site are also available from January through March. Tickets must be purchased in advance on the website. For more information, visit http://thomascole.org.