POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — Thanks to a generous loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is now exhibiting through February 2009 eight key paintings of the Hudson River School, featuring some of the greatest paintings of Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, Sanford Gifford, and Asher Durand.
For the museum's visitors, these artworks are a chance to experience the Hudson River School in dynamic large scale.
"It's a great opportunity for us to show how these artists work at full throttle," said James Mundy, the art center's Anne Hendricks Bass Director. "These paintings were major commissions."
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Hudson River School artists depicted nature as a site of grandeur and discovery, celebrating its glory with a style that fused romantic, religious, and transcendentalist traditions. For the first time, the landscape was the focus, and painted with exquisite attention to its dramatic prowess.
"That's what makes this moment in art history so thrilling," said Mundy. "Landscape ceased to be subordinate to other interests, and the accuracy of the artist's depiction worked hand-in-hand with technical prowess."
Despite their shared appreciation of nature, the loaned paintings offer contrasting ways to experience nature's majesty.
Some present its simplicity and tranquility. In Asher Durand's "High Point: Shandaken Mountains" (1853), the action is quiet and simple, with two farmers cleaning in water in the middle of the composition, while George Inness's "Delaware Water Gap" (1861) conveys a state of meditation through an impressionistic haze. Other works are more active and forceful. John Frederick Kensett's "Hudson River Scene" (1857), which moves the viewer through diagonal, zigzagging hills, creates a distinct kinetic experience in the gallery.
The paintings of Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford, provide an overwhelming experience of nature's grandeur, situating the viewer in the middle of deep foreign landscapes and distances. At more than six feet across, Church's "The Parthenon" (1871) may best illustrate the power of the Hudson River School. The work engulfs the viewer, as you look out onto the great monument from ground level and from behind a pile of stones. By disproportionately enlarging the monument to a staggering scale, and dwarfing visitors in the distance, Church conveys the spectacular power of antiquity.
"It's a great example of Church always being Church," said Mundy. "He knew if it took his breath away, he could paint it to take others' breaths away."
Hudson Valley locales figure prominently in the loaned paintings. In Durand's "High Point," the viewer is treated to a magnificent view of the Catskill Mountains behind Kingston, and in Kensett's "Hudson River Scene," the viewer peers in at what is now the Metro-North railroad path in Garrison. With grass-covered mountains cutting through the frame, including Storm King Mountain in Newburgh, Kensett beautifully captures the lusciousness of the valley.
"These are grand landscapes, filled with a spiritual quality," said Mundy. "It's grandeur on an American scale."
The Metropolitan Museum's loan to the Art Center could not have been better timed. Just when the American Wing of the Metropolitan closed for 18 months of renovations, many of the Vassar museum's major American paintings – including significant portions of its Hudson River School collection – were being shipped to tour several Japanese museums. Rather than keeping their works in storage, the Met agreed to help the Art Center fill a thematic gap.
"It's a real sign of the friendship between the two institutions," said Mundy. "We're giving their works exposure during their renovations, and they're happy to enhance our collection."
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 17,000 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.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The art center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Thursday 10:00am-9:00pm, and Sunday 1:00-5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.