The American Grand Tour features paintings of the Catskill, Adirondack and White Mountain regions celebrated for their scenic beauty and historic sites, as well as Lake George, Niagara Falls and New England. These paintings illuminate the scenic destinations that drew both artists and travelers in the 19th century and still continue to attract visitors today. The American Grand Tour also includes paintings that memorialize the Hudson River itself as the gateway to other regions that were touring destinations and primary sketching grounds for American landscape painters.
After 1850, many Hudson River School artists sought inspiration even farther from home. The paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Martin Johnson Heade, as seen in “American Artists Afield” elucidate how these painters embraced the role of artist-explorer and simultaneously thrilled audiences with dramatic images of the landscape wonders from such far-flung places as the American frontier, the Yosemite Valley and South America.
“Dreams of Arcadia: Americans in Italy” features romantic paintings by Cole, Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford and others celebrating Italy as the center of the Old World and the principal destination for Americans on the European Grand Tour. Viewed as the storehouse of Western culture, Italy was a living laboratory of the past, with its cities, galleries and countryside offering a visible survey of the artistic heritage from antiquity as well as a striking contrast to the sublime wilderness vistas of North America also portrayed by these artists.
All of these ideas converge in the final section, “Grand Landscape Narratives” with Thomas Cole’s iconic series: “The Course of Empire.” These five celebrated landscape paintings explore the tension between Americans’ deep veneration of the wilderness and their equally ardent celebration of progress, recapitulating the larger story told by the other artists and landscape paintings in the exhibition.