Artists of the Hudson River School, America’s first home-grown art movement, flooded their panoramic landscapes with light.
This first in a series of 4 posts will give you:
- Background information about the Hudson River School of art and Jasper Cropsey, a member of that group
- A lesson plan that includes
- Materials and vocabulary lists,
- One principle of art or design to learn about
- A fun activity and story to introduce Jasper Cropsey to your children
- A kid-friendly game to help your children explore one of Cropsey’s paintings
Now let’s get right to the first in the series of 4 posts based on art by Jasper Francis Cropsey.
Background for You.
The Hudson River School artists were a group of artists whose lives and work stretched across most of the 1800s. They knew and learned from each other, sometimes painted together in the same areas, and often exhibited together.
It all began with a sketching trip Thomas Cole, who is considered the founder of the school, took up the Hudson River in 1825. The Hudson River flows south from the Adirondacks, through scenic landscapes, such as the Catskill Mountains, to empty into the Atlantic in New York City.
Following his lead, more and more artists took sketching and painting trips north on the Hudson. Many of them had grown up in New York or New England, while others were immigrants. A few were women, and one was an African American man.
These artists also explored rivers and mountains throughout the northeastern part of the United States, which was still largely rural. They encouraged each other to make careful observations of nature and detailed sketches of what they saw. (Here’s a link to see images from one of Jasper Cropsey’s sketch books at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library)
Eventually some traveled even farther. Frederick Church painted in the Middle East, South America, and the Arctic. Albert Bierstadt (who had immigrated with his family from Germany) traveled with exploratory expeditions to the American West. His paintings helped make the West better known back East.
Look at this painting called Autumn—On the Hudson River by Jasper Cropsey to see many of the features of Hudson River School paintings
(here’s the link to this painting in the National Gallery in Washington D.C., which enables you to enlarge the painting and scroll around to see its details) https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.46474.html
- Wide, panoramic views of a river, distant mountains, and lots of light-filled sky, usually from an elevated position.
- The river or a winding path invites you to “walk” into the painting
- Lots of realistic details of plants, rocks, and trees, rural life
- Light used to reveal the form of things, unlike the Impressionists, who used light to dissolve outlines
- Often show a few people or animals, hiking, resting, or working in fields
- Sometimes the artist shows him or herself painting in the foreground
Above all else you’ll see light and 1 point perspective used to draw you on into the mountains and beyond. (when we see look at a road or wall receding into the distance, we see an illusion of the parallel lines receding at an angle and coming together at “one point” on the horizon. Artists use this 1 point illusion or perspective to help create the illusion of distance in a painting).
In a Hudson River School painting all the lines converge at a point that is lost in light, so it seems as if we can see beyond nature to infinity—to God who created all that beautiful nature. And that’s just what these artists wanted.
Lesson Plan: Engaging your children’s minds to explore and enjoy this painting!
- link from above to this painting in the National Gallery so you can scroll around to see details
- links in this post to maps of Hudson River and photos of the actual places painted
- colored leaves gathered on walk or photos of these
- Optional, but fun! Make a “magic” paintbrush pointer—add a little glue and glitter to the handle of a paintbrush—when you sprinkle a little “magic” artist glitter on children, it becomes fun to imagine walking into the painting or pointing out objects with the brush.
Vocabulary The words will be in bold green the first time they come up.
- landscape painting
- foreground, middleground, background (big words, but ones that will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of a painting)
One principle of art or design to learn about: Color can help create a mood by using warm and/or cool colors
Introduction: An activity and a story
Activity: If possible go on a walk and let children gather colorful fall leaves. If that’s not possible, look at a few photos of bright fall leaves. Ask questions such as: Which colors do they like best? Did they find any leaves that still showed some green? Are there any patterns formed by the changing colors? What do those veins do?
Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us such beauty before winter?
Story: There was once an American artist who loved colorful fall leaves so much that he took lots of sketching and painting trips along the Hudson River and in New England in the autumn to paint the bright red, orange, and yellow leaves. But when he showed some of his autumn landscape paintings in London, the British were amazed. Their fall leaves weren’t that colorful, and some thought he had exaggerated the colors in his paintings. So the artist, Jasper Cropsey, attached samples of leaves to his paintings to prove his colors were right on!
Teaching and Sharing: Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900) was part of a group of American artists who lived not long after the American Revolution when America was still a small country with few cities. They loved to hike along the Hudson River in New York State and in other northeast states, sketching nature and painting landscapes. (The link to the map of the Hudson River is helpful here) https://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/hudson-river-valley-map
Let’s look at one of Jasper Cropsey’s autumn paintings together.
Ask children what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. (Giving children time to look at and talk about the overall painting before using a game to get more specific improves cognitive and social skills)
A fun game to explore the painting and enhance children’s observational skills: Tap a child lightly on the shoulder with the “magic” paintbrush and invite him or her to pretend they are walking through the painting. Encourage their imaginations even more by first asking if it’ll be cold or hot, rainy, or sunny, etc. and therefore, what clothes they should wear and what they might take with them on their walk. Will they need a snack or water?
Ask them to tell what they see, hear, smell, and touch as they travel from the foreground, through the middle ground, to the background. Encourage them to find the men and dogs sitting on the hill, the man on horseback, the town along the river, the children playing on a bridge, trees with red leaves, blown over trees, a paddlewheel boat on the river, and to see colors and patterns.
With landscapes, it can be fun to compare the artist’s work to actual photographs. Here are links to 2 photos taken of that mountain seen in the distance across the Hudson River in Cropsey’s painting. Called Butter Mountain by early Dutch settlers because they thought it looked like a lump of butter, today it’s called Storm King Mountain. It helps form the northern entrance to the Hudson Highlands, a narrow section of the Hudson River. West Point Military Academy is on a bluff just south of this section of the river. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_Highlands#/media/File:Hudson_Highlands.JPG
One principle of art or design to learn about: Color can help create a mood.
- Ask children which colors Cropsey has used. They’ll see he has used both—warm colors for the foliage and cool colors in the sky and river.
- Explain that while Cropsey has painted his landscape with realistic colors, he’s also creating a mood with his color choices. Often warm colors, (reds, oranges, and yellows) can make a painting exciting. Cool colors (blues, greens, and violets) can give a feeling of peace.
- Ask children how the painting makes them feel.
- Help them notice that Cropsey’s reds and oranges and his blues and greens, too, are a little muted by distance.
- And one color seems to warm up every part of this landscape. Which one is it? (that golden sunlight gives an overall mood to this painting of a warm welcome to a peaceful country scene)
Whichever of the above activities you choose, enhance children’s verbal skills by rephrasing words and helping them use the new vocabulary. Encourage their observation skills by pointing out nuances of color such as the different blues and greens of various parts of the sky, water, and land.
Molly and I hope you and your children will enjoy learning about the Hudson River School artists and exploring Jasper Cropsey’s painting, Autumn–On the Hudson River!
I’ll post Connections to Other Subjects very soon! As I was listing them, I realized this post would be too long if I included them now. But sign up to receive these posts by email so you don’t miss them! There are many great connections to social studies, science, and language arts from this painting!
The Hudson River artists are my favorites! Thank you so much for this post.
You’re so welcome, Judith! I love their work, too! and I’m sure with your love of landscapes, that they must really appeal to you!! Thanks for stopping by.
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Yes, it was an Asher Durand painting that first inspired me to try oil painting. 🙂
Hi Judith! I can understand why the Hudson River School landscapes would have inspired you! I love Asher Durand’s The Catskills. It’s one of the other type some of them loved to paint, with a beautiful secluded area, shaded by overarching trees. That catches your attention at first but then you realize that the trees usually open up to that faraway view towards mountains. Are you and your grandson still getting time to enjoy art together? Those times are so special!
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We’re going to have all four grandsons over one weekend soon. I’m planning to do silhouette drawing/paintings for Halloween. I think they will have fun with them.
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That sounds like great fun! It’ll be busy with 4 boys, but so special! We did silhouettes as a school-wide project for Grandparents’ Day last spring! The creativity the children put into their backgrounds was amazing. Maybe you can post your grandsons’ work on your blog!
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Well, grandpa is now talking about getting out the telescope that night, so it might be more of a science night than an art night. I will be posting a few of my own Halloween silhouettes though! They are so much fun to make.
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You two sound like wonderful grandparents–your grandchildren must look forward to every visit! Whether you end up staring at the stars or snipping away at silhouettes, have a super time! I’ll look forward to seeing those silhouettes.
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I’ll be sharing some of my creations as we get closer to Halloween. I’ve been having lots of fun playing. 🙂
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