The tumultuous nature of the art market has brought about the rise and fall of countless genres, artists, and collectors. As a cyclical entity, it is only natural that trends reoccur as the art market dictates: Given that institutions across the country have recently been investing a great deal of publicity and money into their American art collections, it seems that a resurgence of art belonging to the Hudson River School is on the rise. While entire collections spanning from the eighteenth century to current American art are being reorganized or brought out of storage, dusted off, and re-hung, the heavy concentration of nineteenth century landscapes covering the walls cannot be ignored.
For those attuned to the pulse of the art world, the year of 2005 may have given them an inkling that a shift was about to occur in the art market: Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart mogul Sam Walton, founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located just outside Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum collection segmented American Art into four periods: Colonialism, Modern, Contemporary, and 19th Century. The significance of categorizing the latter as a completely separate field asserted the significant value that paintings of the American landscape held within the art historical narrative of the United States. Adorning the walls are masterpieces exalting the beauty of the American landscape: These works depict recognizable areas that can still be seen today, such as the Hudson River, the Catskills, the New England coast, and the rocky canyons of Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: Pavilion of restaurant Eleven with the main lobby building and 19th-century galleries at left
The beat of the American art market picked up in 2010 when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a formidable contender in the museum world, opened a new wing with fifty-three galleries to house its 1,942 piece (and still growing) American art collection. In addition to the new space, a free and completely web-based catalogue entitled Paintings in America is now available to the public: With an entire chapter dedicated to American landscape painting from the nineteenth century, a significant emphasis is placed on the importance of the Hudson River School. Out of all of the periods in American art, a considerable amount of works in this collection are the products of Thomas Cole (1801–1848),“the father of landscape painting,” and of his Hudson River School followers, Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823–1900), George Inness (1825–1894), and John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872), to name a few.
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: A view of the museum’s exterior
In January 2012, after four years of renovations, the Metropolitan Museum of Art re-opened its doors to the painting and sculpture galleries in its American wing, proving that the interest in American art has yet to peak. Two of the twenty-six galleries are dedicated solely to “The Emergence of the Hudson River School (1815–50)” and “The Late Hudson River School (1860–80), with several other areas housing works by artists who belonged to this genre.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: A view of the museum’s exterior
While the renewed interest in American art is generating quite a buzz among collectors and institutions, the artists who seem to be reclaiming their titles as American Masters are members of the Hudson River School. Audiences seem to gravitate towards what is comforting, pleasing, and familiar, and their ability to recognize Yosemite’s Old Faithful geyser, the mammoth Grand Canyon, or the forested mountains of New York’s Catskills proves the staying power of the Hudson River School artists.