Thomas Doughty (1793 – 1856 )
The Original Hudson River School Father of Realism
Thomas Cole is generally and much deservedly known as America’s “father of the Hudson River School”. His artwork can be seen in the most prominent and well known galleries across the globe. Yet, Thomas Doughty (1793-1856) began documenting the American landscape before Cole, and was a predecessor in style, subject, and philosophy to the Hudson River School painters.
In 1848, when reviewing the American art union exhibition in New York City, he reported,
“Doughty’s distances are superb… His meetings of hills are softly blended, as if the breeze interlaced the lines, and the air quivered the branches of trees together… Doughty’s pictures and Cole’s pictures should be placed apart from the rest. We all admit them to be our masters; Cole in one style and Doughty in another. Cole is epical, Doughty is epilogical; Cole in his later studies is the painter of Poetry; Doughty, in study perpetual, is the Painter of Nature. Let us honor both- the dead renowned and the living beautiful.”
Thomas Doughty, a native of Philadelphia, was one of the first American landscape painters. He was also an early member of the Hudson River School: a group of painters who painted views of America’s Catskill Mountains in New York State. Being a self taught artist, Doughty began a career as a businessman which he continued until he was twenty-seven. After two short years, he decided businees work did not suit him and, took his formative steps as a artist in New York City. That year, the twenty-three-year-old self-taught painter showed one of the first American landscape paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.His paintings were included in the first exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum in 1827, and soon after, he exhibited at the esteemed Royal Academy in London. He later became a Pennsylvania Academician, joining the ranks of Charles Wilson Peale and Washington Allston, and was recommended by Rembrandt Peale to Thomas Jefferson for the position of art instructor at the University of Virginia. His career took form quickly and he was instantly well recieved. He went abroad but did not take any further lessons. He stayed in Paris for a long time, working on his drawing, and then spent a brief period in London, still drawing constantly.
Returning to Philadelphia in 1820, he was soon listed in the city directory as a landscapist. By 1824 he was commissioned to illustrate James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “Pioneers”. Exhibitions of his works were held in 1826 at the National Academy of Design, and in 1833 at the Boston Athenaeum. He set up a studio in Boston but again made short trips to Europe in 1835 and 1845. He worked there and in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, painting scenes of the Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Seine, and Thames rivers.
His work was lyrical and intimate in feeling, yet retained the sensation of broad space and limitless horizons. A painter of the “leaf school” of the Hudson River artists, he gave his landscapes variety by his rendering of native trees in a manner reminiscent of the mistier painters of the Barbizon School and of the softness of Constable‘s landscape sketches.
Critics of the 1830s and ‘40s assigned three main purposes to American art: to refine taste and create a native culture, to convey Romantic or religious transcendentalist visions of nature, and to represent observed reality truthfully. Doughty’s art was valued for having fulfilled all three objectives.
For forty years, this foundational landscape painter married direct observations of nature with meditative, poetic feeling, and approached New York’s legendary river with spiritual intent. Thomas Doughty captured the glory in nature, but was also invested in recording it accurately. His landscapes are unique, as his loose brushstrokes nearly defy his detailed impressions, which present nature as though enveloped in a misty haze. Doughty poetically expressed his veneration for nature in hundreds of quiet, sensitive painting. Though the artist first honed his skills by recording the scenery surrounding his hometown of Philadelphia, he made several sketching trips to upstate New York in his formative years and earnestly recorded the relationship between water, land, and sky.
Responding to a toast in his honor a event, Doughty exclaimed,
“I do not profess to tickle the ear with elegant sentences, I would rather appeal to the eye and the heart through the medium of canvas and color… I would rather, if my humble ability would allow me, present to your view or to the mind’s eye, one of those beautiful scenes with which our country abounds.”
William Cullen Bryant, a close friend of Doughty’s, initiated the succession of American poetry that focused on nature and its inherent splendor with his publication of Thanatopsis in 1817. Bryant was born in Cummington, Massachusetts and spent much of his youth roaming the fields and woods near his house in western Massachusetts. It was not until 1825 that Bryant came to New York to edit the New York Review and Atheneum Magazine that he became friends with writers and artists who were part of what was later called the “Hudson River School.” After one year on the “Review”, he became the editor of the Evening Post, and stayed in that position for the rest of his life. Like Irving, Bryant studied law as a young man but his real love was always writing. He published his first volume of poetryThe Embargo, or Sketches of the Times: A Satire at the age of thirteen. “Thanatopsis” his most well-known work was first published in the North American Review in 1817. His poetry was very romantic, steeped in nature imagery and echoed the picturesque style of the Hudson River painters. He was a friend and supporter of such prominent artists as Thomas Doughty, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. He was one of the founders in 1844 of the American Art Union which promoted these Hudson River artists by selling $5 subscriptions for membership. Periodically the members drew lots for hundreds of paintings and sculptures. Among those works distributed by lottery were Cole’s four painting series, “The Voyage of Life.” The Union was brought to a sudden end in 1852 when a judge ruled that it violated state lottery laws. But in its brief history the Art Union brought the works of these artists into the national prominence.
Doughty’s Landscape pictorially parallels the written words of Bryant, who shared with Doughty a religious admiration for nature. Bryant’s poem, Inscription to the Entrance to a Wood, describes this notion:
Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature. The
calm shade shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
that makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm to thy
sick heart… Even the green trees partake the deep
contentment; as they bend to the soft winds, the sun from
the blue sky looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene…
The rivulet sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o’er its
bed of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks, seems,
with continuous laughter, to rejoice in its own being.
For more information on the artist Thomas Doughty, please visit http://www.qmrfineartconsulting.com to view available works of art and artist information. The work “Mill in the Catskills” featured in this blog is currently available for purchase. Please email Qeturah Rasyth at email@example.com for more information on the artwork.