The Hudson River School and the Early American Landscape Tradition: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 to May 18, 1945

The Hudson River School and the Early American Landscape Tradition: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 to May 18, 1945

The Hudson River School and the Early American Landscape Tradition: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 to May 18, 1945

The Hudson River School and the Early American Landscape Tradition: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 to May 18, 1945

Excerpt

In the year 1800, Washington Irving, then a lad of seventeen, made his first trip up the Hudson, and Washington Allston, an aspiring young painter from Charleston, graduated with honors from Harvard. Though these two young men were unknown to each other at this time, they were destined to meet in Rome five years later and become warm friends. Their place in the scheme of things at the opening of the nineteenth century is significant, for both were imbued with the new spirit already beginning to be felt in America--a spirit which was a manifestation of the romantic movement that had been gradually sweeping over Europe for nearly a century.

Allston was an inveterate reader of German and English tales of terror and was especially delighted with Mrs. Radcliffe's novels. While still in college he did illustrations for her most ambitious medieval fantasy, The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in America in 1795, and later painted Spalatro's Vision of the Bloody Hand, an eerie scene from The Italian. Irving on arriving in France in 1804, his first trip abroad, wrote in his journal the following description of a castle: "It had a most picturesque appearance as the first glimpse of morning fell on its mouldering towers. It stood on the brow of a high bank of the river which glittered at its base. The description of Mrs. Radcliffe was brought immediately to my recollection." As the leading exponent of the "Gothic" novel, Mrs. Radcliffe had an enormous influence in stimulating a taste for the picturesque and the medieval as well as for the terrific and the supernatural. It is apparent that she touched the imagination both of our first American-born painter to achieve distinction in the field of landscape and of our first American-born writer to gain widespread acknowledgment

Despite the fame that Irving and also Cooper reaped in the 1820s, we must not overlook the studious Philadelphia writer, Charles Brockden Brown, whose four novels published between 1798 and 1801 are significant as the first American counterpart of the British "Gothic" novel. These romances, though much admired by Shelley and Poe for their elements of suspense and qualities of the supernatural, did not meet with great success due to competition with more highly finished English novels which were reprinted here in great numbers in the days before there was an international copyright. Brown deserves something more than the oblivion he enjoys today, but he failed largely because he was unable to create a mise en scène, while Irving and Cooper, by this very ability to picture American scenery impressively and convincingly, gained great success. In addition Irving had a suavity and charm of style which made his folk tales irresistible, while Cooper, though a less gifted stylist, glorified the noble savage and the life of the frontier, both of which were highly attractive to the romantic mind. Rip van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, Natty Bumpo, and Indian John are immortalized characters in the annals of American literature . . .

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