Kaaterskill Clove | Hudson River School

The Catskills: Kaaterskill Clove

Kaaterskill Clove is a deep gorge in New York’s eastern Catskill Mountains. The Clove was formed by Kaaterskill Creek, a tributary of Catskill Creek rising west of North Mountain. After the War of 1812, with industry surging in America, Palenville and Kaaterskill Clove becoming the site of many tanneries. In 1817, Gilbert Palen built a tannery near the entrance to Kaaterskill Clove. Within just half a century, however, deforestation had set in, and the tannery industry collapsed, lacking the trees it required. Palenville later became a major tourist destination.

The Clove was popular with artists and tourists fleeing the crowded conditions and pollution of the cities. Numerous artists of the Hudson River School painted the Clove. Asher B. Durand featured the Clove in his 1849 painting, Kindred Spirits, which depicted fellow artist Thomas Cole. Sanford Robinson Gifford represented the site in his A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove) from 1862, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Numerous mountain houses and hotels were constructed in the Clove, including the Catskill Mountain House, Haines Falls House, and Laurel House, with overlooks of the waterfalls in the Clove. The Fame of the Catskill Mountains in America began with Washington Irving’s mention of the location in his short story “Rip Van Winkle,” published in 1819. Drawn by the story, Thomas Cole took a steamboat ride up the Hudson, traveling to West Point and then continuing to Catskill, New York where he explored Kaaterskill Clove in October 1825. The resulting paintings made the front page of the New York Evening Post and made Kaaterskill Falls one of the most famous and visited tourist destinations in the United States.

Durand featured the specific geographical sites first explored and depicted by Cole over two decades earlier, in masterworks such as Kindred Spirits (1849), a highly stylized composition featuring Cole and Bryant. Rather than depicting a realistic view, Durand depicted his close friends in a memory of the iconic sites the two immortalized: they stand on a promontory overlooking the Clove, with Fawn’s Leap, Kaaterskill Falls, and Haines Falls visible, which the two helped make famous. Other artists who painted the falls included Frederic Edwin Church, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Richard William Hubbard, and John Frederick Kensett. Their work, in turn, attracted affluent visitors to the Catskill Mountain House and other hotels and contributed to the booming tourist trade in the nineteenth century. Worthington Whittredge’s views of the Clove are often hazy and atmospheric, distinguished by their slight melancholy and intense chromatism. The viewer looks down from a wooded outcropping into the majestic gorge and waters below, valleys and mountains extend infinitely beyond the protected clove.

Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880)
A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862
Oil on canvas, 48 x 39⅞ inches
Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY,
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection
of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914, 15.30.62