The Art of America Homeschool Unit Study: The Hudson River SchoolEva Varga
A newly independent America offered more opportunity to everyone, including artists. Although photography eventually replaced painting as a chronicler of events and experience, nineteenth century America relied on painters to record these things. Portraiture continued to be financially rewarding, but landscapes of the American wilderness were also popular.
Artists of the Federalist Era 1791-1828
“At the end of the 18th century, there were few professional artists in the United States. Americans of the Revolutionary War generation had associated art with luxury, corruption, and aristocracy. During the early 1800s, however, American artists began to overcome the American public’s hostility toward the visual arts. The American people of this time were especially eager for paintings of the great events of the American Revolution.” ~ excerpted from All American History Volume 1, page 392
- Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827) is best remembered for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution. Having a strong interest in natural history, he organized the first U.S. scientific expedition in 1801 and founded one of the first museums in the country, what later became Peale’s American Museum.
- Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) is seen as the greatest 18th century American portrait painter and the creator of a distinctively American style of art. He was most noted for his portraits of George Washington.
Artists of the Jacksonian Era 1828-1850
- Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an American painter known for his landscape and history paintings and his romantic portrayal of the American wilderness. He is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School.
- George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) was an American artist whose paintings of American life in the frontier lands exemplify the Luminist style, characterized by effects of light through aerial perspective and concealing visible brushstrokes.
- George Catlin (1796-1892) was an artist and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. He was the first to depict the tribes in the Plains region in their native territory.
- John James Audubon (1785-1851), an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, most remembered for his extensive studies and detailed illustrations documenting American birds in their natural habitats.
Feeling Inspired? The Hudson River School Art Activity
The Hudson River School is the first coherent American art style, and was the prevalent genre of the nineteenth century. With roots in European Romanticism, the Hudson River painters defined a distinct vision for American art through the depictions of its landscape.
Each part of the country has unique vistas. Landscapes can be green stretches lush with trees and shrubs or dust-covered, flat land punctuated by jagged rocks. Landscapes can also be urban spaces densely packed with soaring buildings.
“None know how often the hand of God is seen in a wilderness but them that rove it for a man’s life.” ~ Thomas Cole
Have students find places in their community that they think would be good subjects for a landscape painting. Have them consider the time of day and the types of places that may have appealed to the artists noted above.
Ask each student to prepare a finished work using pastels, watercolors, chalk, or acrylic paints. Encourage the students to experiment with luministic techniques, the landscape painting style popular in America in the 1850s. It is characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes.
Have them paint outdoors, use bright colors, paint with dabs and small strokes, and include light and shadows at different times of the day or in different weather conditions. Have students work side by side and encourage one another.
You might also consider the unit study, You Can Practically Smell the Light, whereby students will collaboratively design and develop Hudson River School-style murals. It is available free from the U.S. National Park Service.
John James Audubon
Years ago, when my daughter was beginning to transition from easy readers to chapter books, we discovered a wonderful book titled, A Nest for Celeste, by Henry Cole. An historical fiction novel, it introduces readers to naturalist John James Audubon through the eyes of a small mouse. I previously wrote a review on my blog and to this day, it is one of our family favorites.
The illustrations are as spellbinding and magical as the text. It was through this work that my daughter first experienced graphite as an art medium. If you haven’t tried graphite, I encourage you to give it a go. Consider the lesson, Object Self Portrait, as a starting point.
The Art of America Homeschool Unit Studies
This post is part of a 10-post series, providing an overview of the history of American art from Pre-Colonial times to today, including multiple art forms:
- wood carvings
- editorial cartoons
Moving chronologically through All American History curriculum, each post summarizes the art trends and movements popular during the period and features one or two artists from that time period. Plus I will provide a related art lesson or project that you can enjoy with your students.
- First Nations People
- Colonial Art
- The Hudson River School (this post)
- The Civil War & Reconstruction
- The Gilded Age & American Impressionism
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