The Hudson River at West Point

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The Hudson River at West Point
1864
Alfred Thompson Bricher
1837-1908
Oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 42 1/4 in.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection
1993.17

This landscape glows with golden light. The reflections of boats, mountains, and sky on the water suggest a calm day, and the warm colors of the trees indicate that the season is autumn. At the left, two women gaze out at the Hudson River in southern New York from the lawn at West Point. The Hudson River was such a popular subject for a group of well-known American artists during the 1800s they were described as belonging to the “Hudson River School.”

Although West Point was far removed from the fighting, it was famous both for its great beauty and its role in American history. A strategic site during the American Revolution, it was (and still is) also home to the elite U.S. Military Academy, where Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson were trained. A foundry nearby made and tested cannons for the war, and the river was lined with iron manufactories that made ships parts and other supplies used in the war effort.

Alfred Thompson Bricher painted this scene in 1864, during the darkest days of the Civil War, but the scene is anything but warlike. Like many other American painters of his day, Bricher focused on showing peaceful scenes of nature, minimizing the changes that were afflicting the American landscape as a result of urbanization and industrialization as well as a devastating war.


Questions:

1. Why do you think Bricher and other artists focused on painting peaceful scenes during such a violent time in American history?

2. How does knowing about the iron foundry nearby change your view of this picture?

3. What might audiences in 1864 thought about this work?

Further reading:
Dziewulski, David. “Forgotten in a Just Cause: Remembering the US Navy in the Civil War.” New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial. http://www.nycivilwar150.org/storysection/forgotten_in_a_just_cause.html.

Morreale, Mark. “The Hudson River Valley in the Civil War.” The Hudson River Valley Institute. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/themes/civilwar.html.

Newberry Library. "The Hudson River School." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North. http://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/homefront/autumn/autumnhudson.

Terra Foundation for American Art. “Alfred Thompson Bricher – The Hudson River at West Point.”
http://collections.terraamericanart.org/view/objects/asitem/People$0040147/0?t:state:flow=f3ca58c1-be6d-4edd-b230-945dfecd6d9b.


   


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