Scenic Wonder: An Early American Journey Down the Hudson River
November 21, 2014–April 5, 2015
This exhibition displays the Hudson River Portfolio—a significant cornerstone in the development of American landscape art. This print portfolio consists of 20 views along the Hudson River, starting at its source in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Viewed in sequence, the prints take the viewer on a scenic 315-mile tour downriver, ending in New York Bay. Important commercial and natural landmarks of waterfalls and towns, such as West Point, are illustrated. Originally drawn in watercolor by the Irish-born artist William Guy Wall, these Hudson River scenes were printed between 1821 and 1825 in the form of hand-colored aquatints by master printer John Hill.
With the introduction of steam-powered transportation in 1807 and the construction of the Erie Canal in 1817, commerce and tourism on the Hudson River started to flourish. Artists and writers from Europe and America began making trips up the river to document the vast wilderness as well as man's progress along its banks. Wall's seminal images present scenes of industry tucked into pastoral settings. Small figures work in fields carved out of looming hills, the river rushes over water-powered mills, and boats glide past dramatic rock palisades.
The Hudson River Portfolio became one of the first series of fine art prints to make Americans aware of the splendor of their surroundings. This subject would later be adopted by the artists and writers of the Hudson River School as a way to stimulate national pride and cultural identity. The portfolio extended the British aesthetic concept of the picturesque onto the American landscape, blending ideas of harmonious composition with a meticulous factual recording of natural features.
Scenic Wonder is curated by Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs, with Ann-Maree Walker, research assistant.