Working with nineteenth-century American landscape paintings on a daily basis offers the unique opportunity to examine the appearance of landmarks in present day and consider how time has changed from when they were painted over a century ago. Last Friday I packed a bag and took off in a caravan of friends headed to Lake Teedyuskung, a nature-lover’s paradise located in the Lake Region in the Poconos Mountains. With six people and two dogs, our SUV was jam-packed and brimming with excitement for the weekend, yet the car fell silent as we drove over the George Washington Bridge and left Manhattan behind us. The evening’s fiery sunset was magical: behind us, a glowing, sun-drenched city grew smaller and ultimately disappeared into the distance, and we continued west onto a highway that cut through the dramatically back-lit landscape of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
As we maneuvered through the winding curves and steep inclines, all eyes peered upward toward the ghost of the magnificent skyline passing us by. The entire car collectively held its breath as we drove over the Delaware River, and we all laughed after a friend who works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art joked that our crossing was quite anticlimactic in comparison to George Washington’s historic passage, as seen in Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 dramatic masterpiece. The next morning I woke up early to greet the sunrise and was humbled by the undisturbed beauty of the lake; I sat for an hour simply watching the rays from the rising sun slice through the wisps of fog rolling off the glassy lake. I was hit with the realization that moments such as this, where one can sit and savor the sublime grandeur of American wilderness, are what inspired leading Hudson River School artists such as Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and Frederic Edwin Church. Their paintings captured the spirit of a young country ripe with promise and potential, and celebrated the magnificent splendor of the American landscape—a beauty that continues to endure today.