Lumenism over the Hudson
Here I am – relocated again – but at least I am in a position of some importance this time - on the mantle piece. I would have preferred to live in an older house – something more in keeping with my antiquity, but I didn't really get a choice.
My first memories were happy ones, although I always felt somewhat insecure due to my size in comparison to my siblings. But then I was wrapped up and sent off across the sea, and when I finally arrived, was not to the new owner's liking. As a result for years I was stuck in a dark, damp attic – hardly able to breathe much less produce my best. Then came the day when I was sold with many other objects in a job lot. Some attention was paid to me then, but only to decide what to do with me next.
Perhaps I should introduce myself. I have a wooden frame, 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Across my front is stretched canvas which is attached to the sides of the wood by nails of varying sizes – 15 on the sides and 3 across the ends. On my front, as you probably will have guessed, is a picture, painted in oil. My artist did me in 1872, and has titled me on the back, “on the Hudson”. His initials, J. M.C. H. are entwined just after this. I used to have a frame, but my previous owner decided it detracted from rather than enhancing my beauty.
I was given to my new owner, Jean, recently, as a surprise gift by Peter, an archeologist turned antiques dealer who was a good friend of her late husband's. Peter, who acquired me in a house clearance decided that he would never make any money trying to sell me, so thought Jean should have me, with her being an American and all. Also she'd lived in New York for awhile, and has written about things that happened on the Hudson River, so he felt she would be able to identify a bit with my content.
Jean, being a curious sort, wished to know more about my painter. She researched on the internet. He was one of the elite group called “The Hudson Painters” and was called James McDougall Hart, born in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1828. Jean speculated that I am now in England because James sent me as a present to relatives on this side of the Atlantic. She looked at a selection of James' pictures on the internet, and she found one that was very similar in content to me. She has posted it with this story.
James painted me quite late in his career – and I was sort of an afterthought – as most of his pictures were much grander. But he truly loved the scene he painted on me, and bits of the same area can be found in slightly different versions and different seasons on others of his works.
James' whole family was involved in painting – including his wife, Marie Theresa, his children, William Howard, Letitian and Mary Theresa, and his brother William and his sister, Julie Beers. James and William and their family emigrated from Scotland to Albany New York in about 1830 when he was a youngster. Later, he trained as an artist in Düsseldorf. He and his brother both became members of the Hudson River School – which was a movement including about 50 artists who concentrated their painting on landscapes of that river.
Maybe you don't know what the Hudson River School was all about. It wasn't a place to learn to paint. Rather it was a way of thinking and working for artists of a similar outlook on life. The paintings are romantic and depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully and are portrayed realistically and in great detail.
The artist Thomas Cole is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School. The second generation of Hudson River school artists emerged to prominence after Cole's premature death in 1848; its members included Cole's prize pupil Fredrick Edwin Church. Works by artists of this second generation are often described as examples of lumenism. Luminism shares an emphasis on the effects of light with impressionism. However, the two styles are markedly different. Luminism is characterized by attention to detail and the hiding of brushstrokes, while impressionism is characterized by lack of detail and an emphasis on brushstrokes. These painters were celebrities in their time, and when their work was exhibited thousands of people would line up around the block and pay fifty cents a head to view the solitary work. I'm afraid I was too small to merit such attention. But if you look carefully at me, you can see how James used luminism when he was painting me. If the sun shines directly on me, it is as if there was a glow from within and various parts of me seem to light up.
Now to describe me in more detail: The scene depicted is in early autumn, with a golden leaved tree in the foreground. The day is fine with pale blue sky and pink tinged white fluffy clouds over the river, which can only be seen in the background, but identified by the white sails of half a dozen boats reflected in the sunlight. Across the river are quite high hills painted orange – the Adirondacks. There is a path leading down to the river, through the trees, with seven cows grazing in the nearby field. There are no people in the picture, but a few houses can be just about made out in the distance.
So far, no one except from my new owner has paid much attention to me. I have to compete on the mantle piece with dozens of photographs of Jean's young grandchildren, and also with some Worcester china which I am happy to know is contemporary with me in age and quality. I very much hope that I will be valued in keeping with the beauty which I possess, but I can only wait quietly and see.