Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

6.3: Hudson River School (Mid-19th century)

  • Page ID
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    During the mid-19th century, Americans experienced a sudden fascination with the Adirondacks, Catskills, and the White Mountains as a destination for tourism. These scenic regions offered artists of the time a fresh canvas, and they took full advantage of this by embarking on hikes and mountain climbs to paint the breathtaking natural beauty they encountered. This artistic movement, known as the Hudson River School, marked a significant milestone in the history of American art. By capturing the untamed beauty of the wilderness, these artists created the first national art style unique to the United States. Their approach involved immersing themselves in the wild, sketching each detail they observed, and then carefully piecing together a larger composition of the parts in their studio's comfort.

    Despite facing significant challenges, women persevered and created breathtaking artworks, although their contributions were often undervalued. The journey was particularly arduous due to the restrictive clothing women were expected to wear. Some female artists were fortunate to have connections to well-known male painters, which provided some advantages for travel. Despite receiving education in art during the period, most art academies in the United States did not admit women, and organized clubs or groups supported by a particular patron did not include them. As a result, discussions about the Hudson River School painters often needed to recognize the works of female artists.

    In exhibitions today, the women's artwork "reflects the same romantic sensibility, respect of balance, luminosity, and love of picturesque landscapes as those by male artists like…Frederic Church."[1] In 2010, the first exhibition of female artists following the Hudson River School concepts was held in New York. Most of the artwork was forgotten or ignored. It was assumed that women were not part of the movement because it was too difficult to hike through the wildness and produce art. Some said, "women did not even know how to stick an umbrella spike into the ground."[2] Art historians also dismissed the women and did not acknowledge their achievements. Artists in this section include:

    • Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886)
    • Harriet Cany Peale (1799-1869)
    • Julie Hart Beers (1835-1913)
    • Susie M. Barstow (1836-1923)
    • Sarah Cole (1805-1857)
    • Louisa Davis Minot (1788-1858)
    Interactive Element: Women of the Hudson River School

    En Plain Aire painting of the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York.

    Mary Blood Mellen

    Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886) was born in Massachusetts and had several siblings. She developed her watercolor painting skills as a child and went on to attend the prestigious Frye Academy. In 1840, she married a minister and relocated to various towns to support her husband's ministry. Tragically, Mellen lost her only child just two days after giving birth. During this time, Mellen became acquaintances with Fitz Henry Lane, an artist. The two of them traveled together and collaborated on paintings. After Lane passed away in 1865, Mellen's husband followed suit the following year. She subsequently moved in with her sister-in-law and supported herself by selling her artwork and Lane's paintings that she owned. Mellen was renowned for her ethereal landscapes and seascapes of New England. Many of her pieces were initially attributed to Lane, but recent research has rightly credited Mellen as the true artist behind them.

    The artwork entitled "Family Homestead" (6.3.1) is a remarkable piece created through artists' collaborative efforts. Each artist painted the same scene from their perspective on separate canvases. Mellen's interpretation of the artwork captures a moment after the rain has stopped, as evidenced by the glistening road and the sun setting behind the house. The white fence in the foreground adds a charming touch to the overall picture, seemingly safeguarding the property. Interestingly, Mellen chose not to include any human figures in the painting, allowing the house to stand alone in quiet serenity. The absence of figures in the painting allows the viewer to focus on the beauty of the home and its surroundings.

    On the other hand, "Dana Beach, Manchester" (6.3.2) is another remarkable artwork initially credited solely to Lane, but it is now recognized as a collaboration between Lane and Mellen. It is believed that Lane painted the foreground while Mellen depicted the beach and background. Coastal Maine and Massachusetts were popular locations for the Hudson River artists to capture in their paintings, and the two artists often worked together on other pieces. The artwork is an excellent portrayal of the serene coastal environment, with its calm waters and wooden pier in the background. The overall effect is a peaceful, relaxing scene that transports the viewer to a quiet coastal retreat.

    Overall, the two artworks are excellent examples of the collaborative efforts of artists. They both showcase the beauty of nature and the serenity of the environment, transporting the viewer to a peaceful and tranquil place. The attention to detail and the use of color and perspective in both artworks are remarkable, making them a must-see for anyone who appreciates the beauty of nature.

    A painting of a white house and white picket fence at sunset
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Blood Family Homestead (oil on canvas, 1859, 33.0 x 50.8 cm) (Public Domain)

    A painting of a grounded boat on the seashore at sunset
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Dana Beach, Manchester (oil on canvas, 1860, 38.4 x 59.1 cm) (by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Harriet Cany Peale

    Harriet Cany Peale (1799-1869) was born in Pennsylvania. She married early; however, her husband died young, and she began to study painting with Rembrandt Peale. She married Peale and became part of the famous set of Peale family painters. Harriet Peale was usually overshadowed by the more well-known male Peale painters, only recently recognized for her landscape paintings as part of the Hudson River School and her portraits and still life. Unlike other women who had to stop painting after marriage, Peale continued to paint. She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy for Fine Arts five times, an unusual opportunity for women of the period.

    Peale's painting (6.3.3) of Kaaterskill Clove in all its natural splendor. The artwork showcased the exquisite beauty of the region, which remained untouched by human activity, allowing it to retain its pristine allure. However, reaching this site was not easy, especially for women who had to endure wearing cumbersome clothing during the journey. The massive boulders found in the area were remnants of the Ice Age, left behind by a moving glacier that eventually disappeared. These boulders, known as glacial erratics, remained in their original positions for over 13,000 years, providing a glimpse of the earth's ancient history. Peale's artwork masterfully captured each boulder's size, condition, and magnificence, which formed the top of a waterfall, with water cascading down.

    The artist's attention to detail was impeccable, as she depicted the dreamy, picturesque scenery typical of the Hudson River School. The details of the rocks and trees in the foreground gently faded into the hazy mountains and sky in the background, creating an ethereal effect that transported the viewer into the heart of the natural world. Peale's painting showcased her artistic prowess and served as a testament to the beauty and magnificence of the natural world.

    A painting of a river flowing around large boulders in a forest
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Kaaterskill Clove (oil on canvas, 1858, 91.4 x 63.5 cm) (Public Domain)

    Julie Hart Beers

    Julie Hart Beers (1835-1913) was born in Massachusetts; her parents were immigrants from Scotland. Beers brothers were artists and trained in Europe before the family immigrated. Historians believe Beers learned to paint from her brothers and then her husband, who was also an artist. Beers eventually became one of the few women-known professional artists, exhibiting in several places. Early publications commented on Beers' work as competent landscapes and the only woman to specialize in landscapes. At an exhibition, William Gerdts wrote, "It is perhaps not surprising to find so few women landscapists since the rigors of painting outdoors and the unseemliness of women engaging in this activity during the Victorian era acted as a deterrent."[3]

    The Hudson River of Croton Point (6.3.4) is vividly captured in a breathtaking painting that impeccably encapsulates the essence of a well-known hiking trail that meanders through the hills overlooking the river. The trail is distinctively characterized by scattered boulders and fallen branches, which adds to its natural charm and rugged beauty. Interestingly, the artist, Beers, incorporated people into the landscapes, adding a unique aspect that gives the painting a sense of liveliness and depth. The painting depicts the early autumn season, with leaves transforming the trees into a beautiful array of warm colors that are a sight to behold. The background showcases the Hudson River School technique, portraying a hazy, dreamy atmosphere that contrasts with the detailed foreground, which includes mountains and the sky. Every aspect of this painting is intricately detailed and thoughtfully created, bringing the viewer into a natural wonder and beauty world.

    A rivers ox bow bend with large trees and a grassy meadow
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Hudson River at Croton Point (oil on canvas, 1869, 31.1 x 51.4 cm) (Public Domain)

    The artwork entitled The Old Birch Tree (6.3.5) by Beers presents a distinct approach by featuring a closer perspective than the typical broad view. The subject matter is a birch tree that is quite common in the locality, yet the painting highlights its unique bark texture through the lighting conditions in the forest. The tree appears to be leaning due to the soil erosion caused by the stream. The water's reflective surface is embellished with glistening rocks as it catches the sunlight. In addition, the painting displays an intricate depiction of the thick undergrowth, particularly the leaves. At the same time, a small portion of the sky is visible in the background, slightly obscured by the surrounding trees.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): The Old Birch Tree (oil on canvas, 1876, 66.0 x 43.1 cm) (Public Domain)

    Susie M. Barstow

    Susie M. Barstow (1836-1923) was from New York. She studied art at the Rutgers Female Institute in New York and artistic training when she went to Europe. Barstow taught art and exhibited some of her paintings; female artists had few opportunities to display their work in exhibitions. Barstow loved the outdoors, belonged to the Appalachian Mountain Club, and could hike extensively through the New York and New England mountains. Supposedly, she climbed over 100 mountain peaks. Barstow also went on expeditions with people who painted and sketched while hiking. Women of the time were supposed to dress appropriately in long, cumbersome skirts, corsets, jackets, and dainty shoes with heels. Barstow developed her path and made shorter skirts she wore over trousers instead of petticoats and with sturdy boots. She even devised a way to hook her skirt to rings on her belt for greater freedom. This alteration in women's clothing was considered part of the "rational dress movement," a way to change the restrictive Victorian clothing women were forced to wear. Barstow's niece was also an artist; both went on multiple expeditions together to sketch the outdoors.

    The Kaaterskill Creek area has long been renowned as a favored location for artists to capture the essence of nature on canvas. With its good lighting and diverse scenery that includes a mixture of boulders, trees, and mountains, it is easy to see why. Among the many artists who have depicted this stunning location, Barstow's portrayal in her piece, Kaaterskill Creek (6.3.6), stands out for its unique style and attention to detail. The foreground of the painting is adorned with scattered boulders and rocks, creating a picturesque pathway for the water to flow. Barstow's clever use of a solitary, leafless tree helps to balance out the steep, more distant mountain, adding depth and dimension to the piece. The light in the sky cascades from the top down to the middle, illuminating the rocks in the foreground and forming a central point of interest in the painting. Overall, Barstow's depiction of Kaaterskill Creek is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature and the talent of the artist who captured it so masterfully on canvas.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Kaaterskill Creek (oil on canvas, 1870) (Public Domain)

    Sarah Cole

    Sarah Cole, a remarkably gifted artist, was born in England but migrated to America with her family early on. She was the sister of Thomas Cole, who founded the renowned Hudson River School. While little information is available regarding her early art education, it is widely believed that she received training in art from her brother. During the 1830s, Sarah Cole wrote about her early artwork and showcased her pieces in various exhibitions. Through her art, she was able to support herself. Sarah had a deep fondness for hiking with her brother in New York's Catskill Mountains, where she would sketch along the trails. She was also fond of replicating her brother's paintings. Unfortunately, the majority of her original pieces have been lost to time. However, her surviving original work, Mount Aetna (6.3.7), is a testament to her outstanding talent. The painting captures the essence of Italy, and it remains unknown whether Cole ever visited the country or used a reference for her artwork. The painting is a brilliant example of the Hudson River School style, with a detailed foreground that dominates the bottom half of the piece, while a hazy sky and distant mountain form the backdrop of the top half. Overall, Sarah Cole's exceptional talent and invaluable contributions to the arts continue to serve as a profound source of inspiration to many.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Mt. Aetna (oil on canvas, 29.2 x 44.4 cm) (Public Domain)

    Louisa Davis Minot

    Louisa Davis Minot (1788-1858) was a notable American artist who gained recognition for her exceptional landscape and portrait paintings. She was born on December 7, 1788, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to a prominent family. Her father, Jonathan Minot Jr., was a thriving merchant and lawyer. Louisa married a lawyer with whom she had five children. She received her artistic education in Boston, and it is believed that she studied under the esteemed portrait painter of the era, Gilbert Stuart. Despite the challenges that most women faced during her time, Louisa pursued a professional career in painting, making her one of the few women artists of her time. In addition to her artistry, she was also a published writer, a rare accomplishment for women at that time. When Louisa visited Niagara Falls, a popular tourist attraction, she wrote about her experiences, and her writing was published in one of America's early magazines. Other artists also visited the falls, capturing their vision of it on canvas.

    Minot's Niagara Falls from the American Side (6.3.8) captured the power of the falls, with water violently flowing from all the cliffs and colliding with the river. Minot used dark purples in the clouds to reflect the turbulence of the waterfalls. The dark, brooding colors of the sky, cliffs, and shoreline counterpoint the light-colored, bubbly water. Minot projects the feeling of standing on the rocks and hearing and seeing the thunder and tumult of the falls. When Minot wrote about the falls, she said, "The roar deepened, the rock shook over my head, the earth trembled…It was sometime before I could command my pencil."[4] Minot specialized in landscape and portrait paintings, working primarily in oil on canvas. Her landscapes often depicted scenes from her native New England, capturing the region's natural beauty. Her portraits were known for their realism and attention to detail. Minot left behind a legacy as a talented artist and a dedicated philanthropist. Her work can be found in various collections and museums, preserving her contribution to the art of her time.

    A painting of a large falls cascading down into a river
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Niagara Falls from the American Side (oil on canvas, 1818, 76.2 x 103.2 cm) (Public Domain)

    [1] Retrieved from

    [2] Retrieved from https://thehistoryofpaintingrevisite...m-barstow.html

    [3] Retrieved from

    [4] Retrieved from

    • Was this article helpful?