Driving up Midland Avenue late in the afternoon one day last spring, I was passing by the old Nyack High School when I suddenly turned and saw the light ‘€“ literally. Some people refer to it as ‘€œHudson River Light,’€ an intense bright light that clarifies the landscape and everything in it. The really cool part was that it was that late afternoon raking light, that special sunlight that illuminates objects at an oblique angle almost parallel to the surface of the earth, leaving deep, long shadows as a result. This brilliant path of sunlight fell onto the athletic field from the right and up the faÃ§ade of the red brick building to the top of the white clock tower. At the same time, waves of multiple shifting dark cloud layers moved Westward overhead from the direction of the Hudson River. It was after a rainfall and the sky was clearing.
As I pulled over and walked from the car to the field with my camera, it hit me. This is what the Hudson River School of Landscape Painters saw, an incredibly intense luminosity, sweeping over the landscape, cleansing and clarifying it, renewing it. The Hudson River School artists were no different from me. I was doing exactly what they did – renewing my spirit in the presence of nature, capturing an illuminated landscape, using light as a focal point and as a visual metaphor to express an inner spiritual need. Wow, it hit me again. The previous winter had been a difficult one. I’d ended a long-term personal relationship, a professional relationship, and faced a difficult health issue as well. I am also one of those people who see northern winters as long dark tunnels requiring lots of resolve and perseverance. I was at a point when my spirit was in need of some serious uplifting. And then I saw this light.
I photographed the sky, the sunlit building and the athletic field using a wide-angle lens to amplify the space. I stood behind the football goal post using it as a compositional element to better frame the picture because it also offered height. During the process I thought the how and the why behind the creation of the Hudson River School, around the year 1825.
It was after a period referred to as the ‘€œage of revolutions:’€ the American: (1775-83), and the French (1789-1815). Spiritual renewal was in the air and attitudes were changing. The Hudson River Painters, a loosely joined group of academy trained artists joined ranks with a spiritually uplifting artistic and philosophical movement called Romanticism. Rooted in Western Europe in the mid-late 1700′s, Romanticism eventually gained a world wide audience as it redefined the fundamental ways in which people thought about themselves and their world. Freedom of imagination and thought were at its core and in opposition to the constraints of social tradition, intellectual reason and rational thought espoused by an oppressive aristocracy, the kings and queens of Europe.
Romanticism elevated nature to a religious status, and all types of artists were taking cues from it, hence, the elevation of natural elements, landscape, and especially sunlight, to the sublime in painting. The HRS artists took long journeys deep into wilderness areas, first in upstate New York, then outward to different parts of the country and the world, to sketch, commune with nature and revitalize the art spirit. The resulting canvases promoted landscape and nature’s elements as superior to all else, especially to anything produced by man. Their message was: preserve nature because it promotes inner spiritual well being.
What could be better than that? Then it hit me one last time. What’s old is new again. I had communed with nature and with the HRS painters as well. And, in doing so, my spirit had been revitalized in a big way, because this little event had brought me back full circle. I had returned to what had motivated my interest in art before my adult professional life took over. It was as simple as sunlight on the landscape.
Alison Perry owns a Nyack-based photography business that combines architecture, landscape and formal space and strives to make personal art about time and place. She received BFA in Studio Art from SUNY Purchase and a graduate degree in Library Science from Long Island University. Previously, she worked in journalistic and editorial photography for several different national/regional newspapers in NYC, PA and CA. See examples of her work at http://www.alisonperryart.com
For more information about the The Hudson River Painters, visit
- TheCityReview.com (about the 10th St. Studio building)
- The Hudson River Painters at AskArt.com
- The Evolution of American Landscape Art, NY Times 1/9/2010
In response to this story, I received the following information and related links from Henry Miller of Goodman Media International in NYC. email@example.com (Thank you Mr. Miller.)
RENOWNED HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL ART TRAIL MORE THAN DOUBLES IN SIZE, GROWING TO 22 SITES IN FOUR STATES
Extraordinary Art Trail, Combining Nature and Culture, Grows to 17 Sites in New York, Two in New Hampshire, Two in Wyoming, and One in Massachusetts.