Hudson River School | Artistic Style


The stylistic elements developed by the Hudson River School artists were meant to be visually pleasing and seize the viewer’s attention. Sweeping, often fleeting brushwork enliven the landscapes and impart a spontaneity that had virtually never before been attempted in American landscape painting. Small, intimate scenes and grandiose visions were equally experimental. Certain artists, influenced by European writings and visual arts, developed a Sublime aesthetic, characterized by moody, awe-inspiring visions of nature and its forces, experimental compositional strategies, and grandiose optical effects rendered in vivid, even high-keyed colors. Vanishing horizon lines and sweeping views, often from vertiginous vantage points, burst the limits of the picture plane and extend the viewer’s vision beyond the canvas infinitely in all directions. While many artists favored direct observation and naturalism, it was held by artists and critics that scenes should be idealized to create a more harmonious effect and meaningful work. Many Hudson River School scenes, even those depicting deep wilderness, were often synthesized in the final studio production: they were picturesque in composition, balanced and luminous, and favored bright and richly contrasting colors to communicate specific moods or elicit emotions from the viewer.

William Trost Richards (1833–1905)
Rolling Surf, Sunrise, ca. 1870s
Oil on canvas, 14 3/16 x 26 5/16 inches
Signed lower left: Wm T. Richards, 18 [illegible]

Image courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC