Monday, September 15, 2014

Master, Mentor, Master - Thomas Cole & Frederic Church

Master, Mentor, Master - Thomas Cole & Frederic Church at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site  April 30-November 2, 2014  tells the story of one of the most important teacher-student relationships in the history of American art – that between the founder of the Hudson River School of painting, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and his student – successor, Frederic Church (1826-1900). The exhibition will be on view from April 30 through November 2, 2014. 

The Thomas Cole Historic Site is located at 218 Spring Street, Catskill, New York. For information visit or call 518-943-7465.

Frederic E. Church, Charter Oak at Hartford, 1846, oil on canvas, 24 x 34 ¼”. Florence Griswold Museum; Gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance / Company / 2002.1.29.

Master, Mentor, Master - Thomas Cole & Frederic Church will be the first exhibition to explore this seminal moment in American art through the lens of the unique relationship between Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. Their student-teacher arrangement grew into a life-long friendship between the two families, and later, the two historic sites that bridge the east and west sides of the Hudson River. Church, who evolved into one of the most celebrated artists of the 19th century and later built Olana, was first introduced to the Hudson River Valley as an 18–year-old when he came to live and study with Cole at the property known as Cedar Grove in Catskill, New York, from 1844 to 1846. Church’s paintings from this formative two-year period show the artist learning from Cole while developing his own emerging style and unparalleled mastery of landscape painting.

Frederic E. Church, Scene on Catskill Creek, 1847, oil on canvas, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland

A selection of very early works made by Church during his time as a student of Cole will be on view, including views of the landscapes that surround Cedar Grove and Olana. The Cole Site has also worked closely with curators and staff at the Olana State Historic Site on this special exhibition, and will present a unique selection of rarely shown oils on paper and sketches made by Church from the Olana collection.

Accompanying the show will be an exhibition catalogue about the Cole-Church relationship, illustrated in full color, which will include the artworks in the show plus many additional paintings and drawings. Also included will be stories that bring the student-teacher relationship to life, including a description of the day that Cole first took Church to “Red Hill” where Church would return years later to build his castle, Olana. Wilmerding’s essay will include quotes from Church about these formative years, including some late (1890s) letters by Church where, decades after his mentor has died, he continues to write about his abiding respect for Cole, comparing him to a Turner or Constable.

About the Curator

John Wilmerding is the Sarofim Professor of American Art, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He has been a visiting curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and served as Senior Curator and Deputy Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where he was former chairman of the board of trustees. He is currently a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. President Obama appointed him to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. In 2013 he curated an exhibition about Frederic Church at the Olana State Historic Site, our sister institution directly across the Hudson River.

From a review in the Wall Street Journal (images added):

Cole was among America's pre-eminent artists when an 18-year-old Church arrived at Cedar Grove from his native Connecticut in 1844. "View of the Catskills From the Hudson River Valley" (c.1844), one of the earliest Church pieces exhibited, is a competent oil-on-paperboard sketch of pleasant scenery revealing native talent awaiting polish. Thereafter, Mr. Wilmerding notes, Church absorbed Cole's technique so well that when he exhibited his large canvas

"July Sunset" (1847) at the National Academy in New York, a critic declared Church's work to be "strongly influenced, if not made, by Cole himself."
Though Cole painted many wonderful landscape canvases as such, he often treated landscape as a backdrop to his expressive narratives. Church made the landscape itself emphatically expressive by bringing the radiant depiction of light and atmospheric phenomena to a much higher level of naturalism. For instance, to capture the mighty surf pounding against the jagged cliff of

"Frenchman's Bay, Mount Desert Island, Maine" (1844),
Cole painted the wild water with countless minuscule curls of white on the breakers' green surface. It is a strong effect, but endearingly naive beside the sheer technical panache of

Church's "Fog Off Mount Desert" (1850). 
With myriad tones of green, gray, white and pink, Church achieves the unimpeachable illusion of translucent water crashing, pooling and washing over the rocks. Here, Church's virtuoso naturalism anticipates that of a more famous work, his 

"Niagara" (1857, 
at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington), its convincing rush of water virtually audible to viewers. 

Cole's "Study for Catskill Creek" (1844-45) 
depicts the somber profile of the distant mountain range against a demurely fading sky flecked with cloud formations gently touched with crepuscular tints of russet and gold. But Church's "Sunrise" (1847) shows him already developing his powerful signature vocabulary of highly figured skies whose textured cloud formations reflect crimson sunlight at the two most dramatic times of day—dawn and dusk. In "Sunrise" the dark foreground landscape and glowing quilt of mottled crimson and purple cloud-cover frame a small fanlike burst of golden sunrays piercing a lower band of purple cloud, anticipating one of Church's most celebrated canvases,

"The After Glow" (1867, 
at Olana State Historic Site), which focuses on a much larger burst of dying rays, and which Church himself declared "the best Twilight I have ever painted."