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"Wilderness and Its Waters": A Professional Identity for the Hudson River School

DIANA STRAZDES
Early American Studies
Vol. 7, No. 2 (Fall 2009), pp. 333-362
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23546622
Page Count: 30
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"Wilderness and Its Waters": A Professional Identity for the Hudson River School
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Abstract

The ideology behind much Hudson River School painting was reflected in the 1855 inaugural volume of the art journal The Crayon. There Asher B. Durand's "Letters on Landscape Painting" were serialized alongside a short story by William James Stillman, a painter as well as The Crayon's editor. His "Wilderness and Its Waters," a tale of travel into the Hudson River's headwaters, attempted to redefine the landscape painter's activity. Reinforcing Durand's imperative to study nature in its undefiled state, Stillman portrayed landscape painters both as deeply philosophical and as men of action. Emphasizing the primitive conditions encountered on the river, Stillman introduced hardship, privation, and physical risk to the requirement of relentlessly observing nature, while offering spiritual epiphany as reward. He created a novel artistic profile that melded two stereotypical professional identities, those of intrepid explorer and minister of God, which conveniently mirrored the values by which many Americans defined themselves.

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