Hudson River School | Transcendentalism


Transcendentalism was a philosophical American movement of the 1830s and 1840s with roots primarily in German mysticism and German and English Romanticism. German philosophers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and Novalis (1772–1801) were influential intellectual forerunners. So too were spiritual and allegorical landscapes from German Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) and Philipp Otto Runge (1777–1810). English Romantic poets such as William Blake (1757–1827), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), John Keats (1795–1821), Lord Byron (1788–1824), William Wordsworth (1770–1850), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) were equally significant.

The term “Transcendentalism” derives from the philosopher Kant, who deemed, in his Critique of Practical Reason (1788), “all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects.”

One of the Transcendentalists’ fundamental beliefs was in the inherent goodness of both man and nature. The Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions, in particular organized religion and political entities, corrupted the purity of the individual. Writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) championed individual “self-reliance” and independence, and argued that only such fully-formed individuals could create and take part in communities. The Transcendentalists celebrated the American landscape, but also its spiritual landscape, believing that a deep and lasting communion with nature was the only way to fulfill the Self and foster a new arcadia away from societal ills and corruptions.

Francois Regis Gignoux (1814–1882) Snowy Landscape, 1868
Oil on canvas, 24 3/16 x 40 1/16 inches
Signed and dated lower left: R. Gignoux / 1868;
signed and dated on verso: 1868 / R [illegible] Gignoux

Image courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC