In the 19th century, American art and literature helped define an emerging national character through their celebration of nature and the country’s majestic wilderness. Between 1825 and 1875 a distinct style of landscape painting emerged that all but replaced portraiture as the premier focus of painting in the United States. The group of artists who adopted this style are now loosely-termed the Hudson River School. The scenery of New England and upstate New York was their earliest subject matter.
Hudson River School artists journeyed into the wilderness to sketch directly from nature, and their close, almost scientific observations of the American landscape were transformed into stunning canvases that celebrated America’s natural grandeur. In addition, these artists began to present important questions about the conflict between civilization and wilderness as well as the effects of increasing industrialization and westward expansion.
During the last quarter of the 19th century, interest in the detailed pictorialism of the Hudson River School began to wane as impressionistic qualities in painting became favored. Nevertheless, these artists who formed the country’s first art “school” developed a picturesque style of painting that evoked distinctly American scenes and helped to define the unique American character.