"Painting a Nation" Showcases Distinct American Painting Style

American artists set out to blaze a unique artistic trail in the early 19th century by developing their own distinctly American landscape narrative. In doing so, they developed the first native school of painting in the United States.

Called the Hudson River School, it isn’t a physical institution or academy, but is a term used to describe a grand, romantic style of landscape painting championed by its founders.

Nearly two dozen examples of that effort are part of “Painting a Nation: Hudson River School Landscapes from the Higdon Collection,” which is on exhibit at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College March 10 through May 20.

Together, these paintings celebrate the picturesque beauty of the United States and reflect the collective desire of the Hudson River painters to develop an American visual language that was independent of European schools of painting. Prior to this effort, American artists had looked to Europe for aesthetic themes and painterly methods of depicting the world around them.

The second generation of Hudson River School painters — many of whose works are in this exhibition — extended the visual vocabulary to include subjects along the Atlantic Coast and Far West, which reflected the expansion of the United States during the mid-19th century. The Higdon Collection also includes a selection of still-life paintings that complement Hudson River landscape themes by interpreting nature in an indoor setting.

This exhibition organized by the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina features works by significant American artists including Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford, Jasper Francis Cropsey, William Hart and William Trost Richards.

The exhibition showcases the private collection of Charleston residents Ann and Lee Higdon. Natives of New York, the Higdons developed an interest in art as teenagers. They often visited museums and found themselves drawn to Hudson River School paintings. After marrying and purchasing a 19th century home overlooking the Hudson River, they began to collect paintings of the Hudson River School in the 1980s. For nearly 40 years, their interest in this artistic period has endured, resulting in the collection of works in this exhibition.

You can learn more about this important body of work by joining us for our Point of View Gallery Talk March 9 at noon. Registration is not required, but his appreciated. The Members Reception to celebrate the opening of this exhibition and the "Masters of Spain: Goya and Picasso" exhibition is March 23 at 6 p.m. It is free for members and students with a valid ID to attend. Nonmembers are $10 per person.