Mirroring the muse-like qualities of the Hudson River that have inspired artists throughout the years, Painters Point features an integrated bronze and wood shade structure/seating element that serves as both a viewing frame of the river and Hook Mountain, but also a stage, encouraging impromptu performance. The Hudson has inspired painters, poets, singers and other artists for hundreds of years. Let it be your muse, too, as you stand on the prow to take in or reflect the beauty that surrounds you.
ELEVATION OVER WATER
APPROXIMATE MILE MARKER
Pioneers with a Paintbrush
As a young nation, America had a magnificent river running through wild country that was unlike anything the Old World had ever seen. Just as it had thrown off the yoke of a distant king to establish a society based on democratic ideals, America rebelled against traditional artistic ideas to create a bold new vision. In the 1820s, well before the advent of photography, a group of New York artists eschewed painting portraits and chose instead to explore the Hudson River Valley as subject matter. Their work celebrated the beauty of America’s greatest resource — its wilderness. Their efforts sparked inspiration in every medium, which persists even now.
The artistic “revolution” began in 1825 when Thomas Cole, a 24-year-old immigrant from England, journeyed along the Hudson and into the Catskill Mountains, armed with a box of paints, a sketch pad and a flute he claimed summoned his muse. When he returned to his Manhattan studio, he painted what he had seen: mountains, pristine streams and the majesty of nature, “untouched,” as he later wrote, “from the time of creation.” A New York City frame-maker put three of Cole’s paintings in his shop window and sold them the same day for $25 each (more than $600 in today's dollars). Cole’s outing proved to be the start of a remarkable art movement, and landscape changed from background or filler to become the central subject.
Between 1825 and 1875, dozens of artists followed Cole to and began creating remarkable paintings of the Palisades, the Catskills, and the Hudson in all its moods, seasons and colors. Critics derisively referred to this collective as the “Hudson River School” yet their dramatic landscapes painted by Cole, Asher Brown Durand and many others began to attract attention. Along with Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church was a key figure in the Hudson River School. He studied with Cole from 1844 to 1846 and became an acknowledged master in his own right. Church painted majestic landscapes in the Hudson Valley and New England, but also in South America, Europe and the Middle East.
Though painting was considered unladylike in the 19th century, women, many of them sisters and cousins of their male counterparts, were undaunted. Cole’s sister Sarah and her daughter, Emily, belonged to the Hudson River School collective, as did Julia Hart, sister of William and James Hart. Their work was no less thrilling or inspired than those of the male painters, as in the near-religious passion expressed in Bostonian Louise Davis Minot’s depictions of the natural world.
Painters were not the only artists to focus their talents on the Hudson River. The beauty, majesty and mystery of the river drew writers to pen memorable, and sometimes haunting, tales. Among them were Washington Irving — America’s first international literary celebrity — James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allen Poe and Henry James. Their novels, stories and poems, in turn, gave painters material to incorporate into their paintings.
a Victorian masterpiece
Olana, the hilltop home designed by Church and architect Calvert Vaux, is a Victorian masterpiece incorporating Persian motifs that reflect the artist’s eclectic interests and travels through the Middle East. Located approximately 80 miles north of here in Hudson, New York, Olana now is a state historic site and welcomes visitors year-round.
The American Tour
In 1824, the U.S. Supreme Court broke up a monopoly that had controlled steamboat traffic on the Hudson since 1807, and by the following year, there were 43 steamboats on the river, up from six the year before, creating a tourist boom — and a market for illustrated travel guides. Picture books became popular with American and European audiences, who had read about the Hudson’s breathtaking beauty and had seen the work of the Hudson River School artists. Fashionable tourists came from near and far to experience the inspiration for themselves, and with guidebooks that identified points of interest and reinforced the splendor on view before them as they cruised upstream and down. “The Danube or Rhine does not furnish more beautiful, or picturesque views than our own beautiful Hudson” gushed one guidebook published in 1836. When steamboat service from England began in 1838, the flow of tourists swelled even further.
Painters themselves began to crowd into the wilderness as access to the area became easier: Asher Durand, one of the original members of the Hudson River School, reported seeing nine other artists at work on the same day at his favorite Catskill sketching location in 1848. The reverence for nature also led to a growing awareness of the encroachments of progress. These included new highways being built for stagecoaches, railroads making their way across the wilderness, the digging of new canals, and the commercialization of popular destinations such as Niagara Falls, bringing throngs of tourists.
A heavy toll
In 1831, the Frenchman Alexis DeTocqueville noted a worrisome nonchalance in the American character in his classic firsthand report, “Democracy in America”: “Americans are insensitive to the wonders of inanimate nature and they may be said not to perceive the mighty forests that surround them till they fall beneath the hatchet.” A few years later, in a painting called Catskill Creek, Thomas Cole included the stump and axe-cut main stem of a tree as a reminder of the heavy toll humans take on nature.
River of Inspiration
Edward Hopper, one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century, was born in 1882 on North Broadway in Nyack, where he lived until his late 20s. He learned to swim and sail on the Hudson River and worked in local shipyards. In high school, he set his sights on becoming a naval architect, even building a wooden catboat at age 15. By his own estimation, the boat didn’t sail very well, and that early experience may have convinced Hopper to concentrate his efforts on drawing boats rather than building them. His interest in architecture, naval and otherwise, remained a strong theme throughout much of his work.
Hopper’s artistic aptitude blossomed early, and his parents encouraged him to develop his talent. In 1899, he moved to New York to attend art school and begin his career as an artist. Although the heyday of the Hudson River School had passed before Hopper was born, it remained a strong influence on him. While celebrity did not come quickly, Hopper eventually earned recognition as America’s leading realist painter. In 1925, he created a widely-acclaimed painting of a building in Haverstraw, called The House by the Railroad, which became the first painting to be acquired by the newly-established Museum of Modern Art. Hopper died in 1967, and his Nyack birthplace is open today to the public as the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center.
While the Hudson River School reveled in nature’s solitude, Hopper focused on the theme of isolation in urban settings, as seen in his best-known work, Nighthawks.
Seeing the River in a New Light
A strong, local environmental movement in the 1970s inspired another artist to shine his light on the glory and majesty of the river. Former Nyack resident John Beerman rendered the Hudson in a modern Luminist style in which everything is simplified, and light plays a central role. Beerman claimed to be a distant relative of Henry Hudson, and his painting The Half Moon depicts Hudson’s ship on its historic voyage up the river. The painting was presented to President Barack Obama in 2009 by the American Heritage Rivers Alliance to mark the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s journey.
The Hudson River continues as a muse for contemporary artists, including Maya Lin, recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions as an artist and environmental activist. Lin is well known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her 2018 exhibition A River is a Drawing, at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, is a series of 12 works that explore the river as a whole, from its beginning in a lake in the Adirondack Mountains, 4,322 feet above sea level, to its destination in an underwater canyon in the Atlantic that drops more than 10,000 feet below sea level. Lin says, “Rivers are something we tend to see and think of at the place we know. Rarely do we think of a river in its entirety.”
the importance of protecting the Hudson
Despite differences in temperament and technique, artists then and now nevertheless fully agree on the importance of protecting the Hudson and its resources. Thomas Cole worried openly about the impact of “what is sometimes called improvement” on the natural world. His fellow artist Asher Durand likewise sensed the growing threats to nature “from the pollutions of civilization.” They undoubtedly would have applauded efforts by Lin, an environmental activist, to help restore “the resiliency of the Natural World.” Others see her role in preserving natural beauty as well. In 2011, the National Audubon Society recognized Lin for her conservation work by awarding her its prestigious Rachel Carson award, which recognizes female environmental leaders.
did you know?
The eight iconic towers of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge are the exclamation point in a dynamic architectural lighting composition that spans the river. At night, more than 1,500 energy-efficient LED luminaires accentuate the soaring towers and stay cables, each capable of changing color on command.