POUGHKEEPSIE — Known for its rolling landscapes and pastoral beauty, the Hudson River Valley and its surrounding areas have inspired countless artists to pay tribute to their majesty – most notably, what has come to be known as the Hudson River School of painters. Their style, an outgrowth of the Romantic Movement, celebrated the natural beauty of the American wilderness and served as the dominant school of landscape painting throughout the 19th century.
To explore this critical period in the history of American art, and how its works have since been collected, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center has gathered Hudson River School works from three different sources: Vassar's founding collection, purchases by a Vassar alumna and her husband, and a collection guided by the contemporary sculptor Dan Flavin. The result is the new exhibition Hudson River School Trilogy: A Focused Collection; Drawings From Dia; Selections from the Permanent Collection, to be shown August 17-October 21 at the Art Center.
The extensive Hudson River School works that have been collected by Alvin Friedman and his wife Maryann (Vassar class of 1955) will comprise the first gallery of the exhibition. The second gallery will feature works from the original Vassar collection, purchased by Matthew Vassar from the Reverend Elias Lyman Magoon. Finally, selected Hudson River School drawings by masters such as John Frederick Kensett and Aaron Draper Shattuck, currently on long-term loan to Vassar from the Dia Art Foundation, will fill a third gallery.
"The effect of the combination of these three collections is a form of triangulation that sheds light on the broad appeal of the Hudson River School to very different personalities separated by time, vocation, and purpose," said James Mundy, director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and curator of the exhibition. "We see how a nineteenth century minister, a lawyer, and an artist from today have all turned to the accessible, yet sublime, imagery of the Hudson River School painters for solace, inspiration, and insight."
About the Alvin and Maryann Friedman Collection
Maryann and Alvin Friedman (a 1952 Cornell graduate) have devoted themselves to collecting American art of the Hudson River School period since they experienced the 1983 Vassar exhibition on the subject All Seasons and Every Light. Over the ensuing twenty-five years they have assembled a very focused group of paintings by the Hudson River School's key practitioners including Frederic Edwin Church, Sanford Gifford, and Jasper Francis Cropsey.
Furthermore, the Friedman collection's sojourn at Vassar provides a valuable opportunity to examine some of the key Hudson River School paintings owned by Vassar, works that helped to inspire the Friedmans' collecting odyssey twenty years ago. For example, the Friedmans' luminous Andean oil sketch by Frederic Edwin Church is nicely complemented by Vassar's own oil sketch of Autumn in North America. And, their two North American paintings by Jasper Cropsey find a suitable counterpart in his European sunset vision of "Evening at Paestum" made during his extensive Grand Tour of picturesque locations in Italy. Finally, the Friedmans' paintings by Sanford Gifford gain resonance when seen in proximity to the Gifford sketchbooks owned by Vassar.
The Friedmans, who live in Washington, DC, approached their collecting carefully and through a mutual passion to learn more about the development of American nineteenth-century landscape painting. After considerable study that included visits to many major museum collections, surveys of commercial gallery holdings and auction catalogues, and attending special exhibitions, they were ready to begin purchasing works in 1986.
They remained consistent to their focus on landscape that was peaceful, with limpid quiescent views of earth, water, and sky in harmony. The 11 paintings in the exhibition represent less than one third of the Friedman collection but sum up the range of their interests. They are committed to sharing their collection as broadly as possible and feel a strong mission to acquaint others with the charm, majesty, and power of this period in American art.
The presentation of works from the Friedman collection is the result of a collaborative effort between The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University (where the works were exhibited April 21-July 29, 2007).
About the Magoon Collection
Reverend Elias Lyman Magoon of Albany (1810-1886) assembled upwards of 3,800 works of art in the 1850s and early 1860s. In 1864, he sold his collection of British art and American paintings to Matthew Vassar for $20,000, who, in turn, used them to equip the art gallery of his new college. The collection, which includes more than three hundred American paintings, is now part of The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.
About the Dia Art Foundation Drawings
The third element to the Hudson River School Trilogy is a selection of the numerous drawings by nineteenth-century American landscape artists that are owned by the Dia Art Foundation, and have been on long-term loan to The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center since 2001.
Committed as it is to promoting the work of contemporary artists, it may seem surprising that the Dia Foundation would possess such a historic collection. But one of Dia's key artists, Dan Flavin, known for his neon and fluorescent light sculptures, was an avid student of these landscape artists. With the support of the Lone Star Foundation, which later merged with Dia, Flavin was able to amass this collection of drawings as well as several related oil sketches. These were to be part of a planned museum known as the Institute for the Hudson Highlands which was to be established near Flavin's residence in the Hudson River community of Garrison. Plans shifted however, and Flavin's interests turned to establishing another museum in Bridgehampton, NY, now known as the Dan Flavin Institute (and maintained by Dia).
The Dia collection drawings, dominated by a significant number of works by John Kensett, reflect Flavin's interest in the region and the artists who captured the life, light, and landscape of the Hudson River Valley, often carefully noting down colors or atmospheric conditions, similar to the note taking that Flavin often engaged in. The works by Kensett are augmented by sheets by a number of his talented peers, including Aaron Draper Shattuck, Sanford Gifford, Jasper Cropsey, and Poughkeepsie resident James David Smillie.
Exhibition Lecture and Reception (free and open to the public)
"The Collectors' Palette: American Landscape Paintings from the collection of Al and Maryann Friedman"
Friday, September 7, 4:30 p.m.
by Ella M. Foshay, co-author of All Seasons and Every Light: Nineteenth Century American Landscapes from the Collection of Elias Lyman Magoon (1983)
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie
(845) 437-5632, http://fllac.vassar.edu
Friday, September 7, 5:30 p.m.
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 16,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American twentieth century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.