Hidden in Plain Sight - Symbolism and the Hudson River School
In pastoral landscapes, portraying the life in the country in an idealized and conventionalized manner, the Hudson River School artists celebrated the dominion of mankind over nature. The scenes are peaceful, often depicting harvests, gardens, lawns with broad vistas, and healthy livestock. The view was that man has developed and tamed the landscape which then yielded the necessities we need to live as well as providing beauty and safety. A classic example of this is the Pastoral Landscape by Asher Brown Durand.In sublime landscapes nature is shown at its most fearsome. There is an awe and reverence for the wild. Humanity is small and impotent in front of raging waters and violent storms. These works can also be uplifting, in a spiritual way. The sublime emphasizes God’s dominion over humanity. An example is The Catskill Mountain House: The Four Elements by Thomas Cole.
Whatever messaging or themes that may be present in these landscape paintings, most of Hudson River School artists had one common message to convey - morality. Despite their different styles and subject matter, their purpose was a common one. It was to preserve their new nation’s beautiful and natural scenes. They wanted to express man’s harmony with nature, and viewed their new country as a gift, a second chance for mankind to live in the new Eden of the untouched American wilderness.