On Hudson: Highlights from the Albany Institute of History and Art

The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, is collaborating with the Albany Institute of History & Art in Albany, New York, on an exchange of original exhibitions drawn from each other’s collections.

Opening on June 15, 2012, the Old Lyme museum hosts On Hudson: Highlights from the Albany Institute of History & Art, an exhibition of 59 works that examines both the history and the symbolism of the Hudson River Valley, which has shaped American culture for three centuries. The Albany Institute’s collections include extraordinary portraits and material culture by Dutch settlers, one of the nation’s preeminent groups of Hudson River School landscape paintings, and contemporary works that exemplify the region’s ongoing artistic legacy. Using artifacts, material culture, drawings, and paintings, the exhibition introduces audiences to the rich artistic heritage of the Hudson River Valley. The presentation of On Hudson is made possible by a grant from The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company.

In the fall of 2012 the Florence Griswold Museum will send the Albany Institute Artistic Impressions: American Paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum, a selection of paintings that tell the story of Connecticut’s artistic heritage. “This is a great opportunity for each institution to share its regionally-based collections of American art and culture with new audiences,” notes Jeffrey Andersen, Director of the Florence Griswold Museum.

Founded in 1791, the Albany Institute of History & Art is one of the oldest public museums in America. On Hudson introduces the culture of the Hudson Valley region and the role that the majestic Hudson River has played in its life and art. Settled by the Dutch, whose impressive portraits and decorative arts will be featured, the region developed a strong visual identity.

On view are examples such as the portrait of Abraham Wendell attributed to John Heaton (ca. 1737) and Geradus Duyckinck I’s likeness of Elsie Rutgers Schuyler (Mrs. Petrus) Vas (1723), paired with a multicolored Delftware bowl once owned by the sitter. Distinctive Dutch forms, such as paintings and ceramic tiles depicting Biblical imagery, and silver funeral spoons and brandywine bowls, will also be on view. For these Dutch colonists, the Hudson was a vital means of transport between New York City and Albany. The first known view of the Hudson River appears in a circa 1730 portrait attributed to Pieter Vanderlyn, where the ship in the background suggests the river’s importance to trade and transportation. This relationship would continue for generations to come. By the early nineteenth century, river trade had made Albany, Troy, Hudson, and other towns into vital cultural and industrial centers. Portraits by Ezra Ames and Ammi Phillips demonstrate the ambition and talent of Hudson Valley artists as well as the prosperity of local residents. Iron foundries dotted the region and made economical, technologically advanced products like the magnificent four-column cast-iron parlor stove manufactured by Johnson, Geer & Cox in Troy, New York, that will be on view.

In the 1820s, artists such as Thomas Cole found inspiration in the river, developing a mode of landscape painting that came to be known as the Hudson River School. Cole, Frederic E. Church, Asher B. Durand, and other members of the informal group celebrated American’s wilderness as well as its pastoral vistas, helping to define the nation’s identity through its glorious landscape and initiating the first truly American art movement. “As befits its location, the Albany Institute possesses one of the country’s finest collections of the Hudson River School, thanks to the patronage that artists such as Cole received from descendants of the Dutch such as Stephen Van Rensselaer III,” states Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator at the Florence Griswold Museum. “We are thrilled that AIHA is sharing so many of their many wonderful paintings and drawings by Hudson River School artists.” Works such as Jasper Cropsey’s Dawn of Morning, Lake George, 1868, helped create our idea of America as a wilderness paradise and laid the foundation for later landscape painting in this country. Cole’s Lake Winnepesaukee, 1827 or 1828, and Church’s Morning, Looking East over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains, 1848, demonstrate the link established early on between Hudson River School landscapes and tourism. Examples such as Sarah Cole’s rendering of the Catskill Mountain House, 1848, depict the hotels where tourists flocked to take in the landscape, a practice that increased with the advent of steamboats as celebrated in paintings by James Bard and Robert Havell. In addition to paintings by the leading members of the Hudson River School, the exhibition includes seldom-seen drawings by its progenitor Cole, among them his earliest dated sketch.

The Albany Institute’s collection includes artists who continue to be drawn to the Hudson River Valley. Many consider Bill Sullivan, who died in 2010, to be “the painter of the Hudson River.” Sullivan credited Frederic Church as one of his greatest inspirations. He spent two years traveling in Church’s footsteps in South America painting many of the same sites as the nineteenth-century artist. Many of his paintings of the New York region pay homage to works by Church. His composition Twilight at Olana, 1990, glows with similar intense reds and yellows as several Church paintings and invokes the exhilarating grandeur for which Church’s canvases were appreciated in their own day.

Contemporary artist Stephen Hannock’s work echoes those of Hudson River School artists, often with environmental overtones. An example of what the artist calls “Vistas with Text,” the painting Nocturne for the River Keeper, Green Light (2001) incorporates a written commentary about the Hudson and is titled in tribute to the Hudson River Keeper who helps preserve the storied waterway’s health. Many critics have compared Hannock’s paintings to such forebears as Cole, Church, J.M.W. Turner, and George Inness. Art Historian Jason Rosenfeld describes Hannock’s work as “both distinctively modern as well as reflective of landscape traditions.”

Just as these contemporary artists have kept alive the tradition of the Hudson River School, nineteenth-century painters such as Tompkins Matteson sustained the region’s Dutch heritage through his depiction of the legend of Rip Van Winkle (1860). Historical painter Edward Lamson Henry looked back at the Valley’s English and Native American past in his 1903 rendition of the meeting between the Iroquois and Sir William Johnson in 1772. Along with renderings of the river’s landmarks, such as the Hudson Highlands or Storm King, these works of art have all shaped our appreciation of the Hudson Valley as a storied region.

About the Florence Griswold Museum
Located on an 11-acre site in the historic village of Old Lyme, the Florence Griswold Museum is known as the Home of American Impressionism. In addition to the restored Florence Griswold House, where the artists of the Lyme Art Colony lived, the Museum features a gallery of changing art exhibitions, education and landscape centers, extensive gardens, and a restored artist’s studio. The Museum is located at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT, exit 70 off I-95 and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm. The Museum will be closed July 4. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 students, and free to children 12 and under. For more information, visit
www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org or call 860-434-5542 x 111.