A Photographic Journey to the Hudson River School of Painting – Part I
My wife Margot and I have long been interested in the Hudson River School of Painting. Founded by Thomas Cole in the 1820’s, the Hudson River School was the first recognized art movement in the United States. The School comprised over 20 major artists and numerous others, and extended from the 1820’s until approximately 1875. It is particularly known for dramatic landscapes of the pristine wilderness of early America, including paintings depicting scenes of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. Cedar Grove, the original home and studio of Thomas Cole, is located near the west bank of the Hudson River in the town of Catskill, New York. Now known as the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, it has been carefully restored and was opened to the public several years ago as a museum. You can learn more about the museum at its website at http://www.thomascole.org/.
In addition to an informative tour of the premises, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site offers a Trail Map and guided tours of several other sites in the vicinity of Cedar Grove that were inspirational to Cole and other artists of the Hudson River School and are the subject of many of their paintings. Some of these sites can only be reached by uphill hikes, which range from easy to moderately difficult. Margot and I looked at the trail map and decided to visit each of the marked sites on our own.
The first site on our list was Kaaterskill Falls, a two-drop waterfall which, at a combined 260 feet, is one of the highest falls in New York State. It is located off Route 23A about 15 miles west of the town of Catskill, in the Catskill Forest Preserve, between the towns of Palenville and Haines Falls. The base of the falls can only be reached by a trail that starts near the side of a hairpin turn in Route 23A and climbs nearly straight up over rocks and tree roots for about one-half mile. But first, at the bottom of the trail, right beside the road, is a smaller but perhaps no less beautiful waterfall known as Bastion Falls:
The steep climb up to the base of Kaaterskill Falls is rewarded by an astonishing sight:
Kaaterskill Falls was painted numerous times by Thomas Cole from various perspectives, including this 1826 oil on canvas:
The existence of the falls was called to Cole’s attention by Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle”, published in 1819. Describing Rip Van Winkle’s journey home after awakening from his 20-year sleep, Irving wrote about the falls: “At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such an opening remained. The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a deep broad basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.”
The hike to Kaaterskill Falls completed the first day of our visit to the origins of the Hudson River School of Painting. Our subsequent visits will be the subject of later posts.
Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber