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Docent Excursion to the Catskills

Today’s post comes from Delphine Douglas, class of 2018 and Art Center Multimedia Student Assistant.

On October 1st, a group of docents from the Art Center left Poughkeepsie to learn about Thomas Cole and Hudson River School painters in the Catskills. We started out early in the morning with a visit to Kaaterskill Falls. This double waterfall was a popular subject for Hudson River School painters, including Asher Durand whose painting Kindred Spirits features Thomas Cole with William Cullen Bryant at the falls.

Asher B. Durand,
Kindred Spirits, 1849
Oil on canvas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, United States of America.

After comparing the real and painted views we drove further into the Catskills and started a hike that brought us higher into the mountains. As we hiked we noticed the types of plants and rocks that Hudson River School painters carefully reproduced in their paintings. As we passed a Hemlock tree we also learned that this was the type of tree that was frequently chopped down in the late 1800s to collect tannins for processing hides. Thomas Cole lamented what he saw as the careless destruction of a divine environment, and I found it interesting to see the descendants of those trees that Thomas Cole spent so much time worrying and painting about.

We also took time to stop and admire the impressive views of the Hudson Valley from the mountains including the view from Sunset Rock which was a frequent subject for Thomas Cole. It was a beautiful, clear day and I definitely felt deeply appreciative of the landscape and mountains we were walking through, which was a feeling Cole and others described in their writing and tried to express in their paintings.

After a quick lunch we drove north to Thomas Cole’s house known as Cedar Grove, in Catskill, New York. Our very helpful guide, Maddy Conley, showed us around the historic site. This included restored rooms which looked as they would have while Thomas Cole lived in the house with his wife Maria Bartow and their family. Both these and the unrestored rooms featured highlights from Thomas Cole’s painting career. In the house we got a better sense of how Thomas Cole lived, including the supportive influence of Maria Bartow and his family on his work. The views of the Catskills from the west side of the house also testified to Cole’s deep love and commitment to the landscapes he painted. We also got the chance to see reproductions and originals of Cole’s most famous works, including The Architect’s Dream, which were displayed in the house as they would have been during Cole’s life.

Thomas Cole,
A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning, 1844.
Oil on canvas, 35 13/16 x 53 7/8 in. Brooklyn Museum. Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 52.16
The view from Sunset Rock as seen by the Docents. Photo by Isa Pengskul.
Thomas Cole,
The Architects Dream, 1840
Oil on canvas, 53 x 84 1/16 in.
Toledo Museum of Art. Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in memory of her father, Maurice A Scott, 1949.162.

Visiting Cole’s house and studio served as a good reminder that Cole painted the Hudson Valley because he felt a deep spiritual connection to the landscape and nature that surrounded him when he lived there. For him this was more than a subject to be painted, but also an enriching and happy part of his lived experience. I personally enjoyed making a connection between my life and work by going on this trip and seeing how close to home these mountains are.

You can visit the Thomas Cole House website here. You can explore highlights of the Art Center’s Hudson River School collection through the online catalogue here

Rocks and trees on the Docent trip to the Catskills. Photo by Isa Pengskul.
Worthington Whittredge
American, 1820-1910
Rocks and Pines, c. 1861
Oil on canvas
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Gift of Helen Corbett, class of 1932
View of the Catskills from the Thomas Cole House. Photo by Isa Pengskul.

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