Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hudson River School - Frederic Church

Frederic Edwin Church was a pupil of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting. The movement lasted throughout the mid-1800's with its pinnacle lasting from 1855-75. Church was the primary reason I made this visit to the Hudson Valley. I wanted to study the influence he had on the wilderness landscaping of Central Park.

Church had studios in both New York City and in his magnificent Arabic style estate, Olana, on a hill overlooking the Hudson River and Catskill mountains. It was here on over 250 acres of land he re-landscaped the wilderness as if he were composing one of  his paintings. He constructed carriage trails that ran through the scene so visitors would continually come upon different compositions of the ever-changing vista. This is very similar to the much of the planning behind Central Park.

Church had a very definite connection to the planning commission of Central Park and shared his views on landscaping as an art form with Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. In fact, Vaux was the architect Church used to design his villa, Olana, on the Hudson. So it is little wonder that as I photographed the wilderness areas of Central Park I began to recognize the influence of the Hudson River School painters on the layout and composition of the scenery, and that is what drew me to this journey up the Hudson to explore Church's estate.

Frederic Church's villa, Olana, was designed to his specifications by the architect, Calvert Vaux.
The villa porch looks west over the Hudson River and Catskill mountains. The trees now present in the foreground would not have been there when Church lived here. He had them cut down so as not to obstruct the view. The next part of the restoration project of the Olana estate will be to restore the landscape to the way he had re-created it. 

I photographed this sunset view of the Hudson River and mountains while standing directly in front of the studio room of Church's villa, Olana. It is easy to see where he derived the inspiration for many of his paintings.
Church's painting of "Twilight in the Wilderness". Church, and many of the painters of the Hudson River School, often integrate a close up detailed view of a foreground element with the distant landscape.
This is another sunset view I was able to capture from a lower point on Church's estate. The land itself plays a subsidiary role to the sky in Church's paintings. With sunset skies such as this, it is easy to see why.
I took some sunset views of the scene from Church's estate. It became quite obvious to me where he derived the inspiration for many of his paintings. Church only did sketches, with copious notes, in the field. His huge paintings were done in the studio. From what I can tell, he would combine a distant landscape with a detailed foreground, and the two might not have been in the same scene originally. I suppose this was his early substitute of using Photoshop to enhance the original scene.

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