Posts Tagged ‘Asher Durand’

Andrew Wyeth -Mother Archie's Church 1945

Andrew Wyeth -Mother Archie’s Church 1945

We went to Cooperstown this past Monday to catch the last day of the Wyeth Family exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum.  It was a great show featuring work from patriarch NC Wyeth,   son Andrew, grandson Jamie, daughter Henriette and daughter Carolyn as well as Henriette’s husband, Peter Hurd and NC’s primary influence Howard Pyle.  That’s a lot of talent to jam into a relatively intimate space.  You might think that it would be less than satisfying but the curating of this show was masterful, showing each artist in a truly representative manner that gave a real taste of their body of work.   Just a wonderful show.  I am glad I got to see it  if only to see a few of NC Wyeth’s gorgeous works and to discover more about his son-in-law, Peter Hurd, whose work is wonderful, bringing to mind the regionalist painters such as Grant Wood.

Thomas Cole- The Course of Empire- Destruction

Thomas Cole- The Course of Empire- Destruction

Of course, there was also the spectacular Thaw Collection of American Indian Art to see.  As always, it was a thrill to see the beautiful aesthetic of the native culture.  And as good as both the Wyeth show and the Thaw Collection were, I was truly bowled over by the current show, The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, featuring works from the Hudson River painters of the 19th century,  Just beautiful and strong examples from the genre, highlighted for me by the works of Asher Durand and the spectacular Thomas Cole series of five paintings, The Course of Empire , which features the rise and fall of an empire in the landscape, a rocky peak with a precariously perched boulder standing as a constant witness.  You have probably seen some of the paintings from this series but to see them together  in their full scale is to really get a great appreciation for their power.  It hangs at the Fenimore until September 29, so if you can, take a trip and see some incredible work.


Cole, Course of Empire - Savage State 1834 Cole, Course of Empire - Arcadia, Pastoral State 1834 Cole, Course of Empire - Consummation of Empire 1835 Cole, Course of Empire - Desolation 1836


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I was rummaging around in one of my favorite sites, Luminous Lint, looking for something that would somehow sum up the world of Kodak and Kodachrome film on this day when they file for bankruptcy, the end of an era.  As I flipped through the photos this image caught my eye.  There was a blaze of green that lit up the edge of it and flecked through the faded and vague image of a farmhouse giving it an otherworldly glow. It reminded me of the effect I wanted in much of my early work, of the image seeming to be somehow pulled from time and space, leaving it in a rough-edged cell.

Reading below it I discovered that the photographer was Levi L. Hill and that was taken in 1851 in Greene County in the Catskills of New York.  It also said that this may be one of the first color photos taken and that Hall came across the image accidentally and spent the last 15 years of his life trying to recapture the effect.

Levi Hill Portrait

Intriguing.  I decided I wanted to know more and came immediately across an article from the Catskill Mountain Foundation titled Levi L. Hill: Fool or Fake? by writer Carolyn Bennett.  The whole story is a bit more involved and even more interesting.  It seems that Hill began a Quixotic journey to discover color photography after a discussion with famed Hudson River painter Asher Durand who told him that if he could find a way to capture color with photography he would be far ahead of all of the painters of the time.  The public was crazy for photoimages and especially clamored for color.  The man who discovered a color process would gain renown and fortune. 

So Hill started an intensive search even though he had little training in chemistry or science, performing thousands of experiments.  The image above was one of the few, if limited, successes and that was merely by chance.  His grand quest ended with his death in 1865 at the age of 49.  To get a better sense of this little known bit of photo history I suggest reading the article from the Catskill Mountain Foundation mentioned above or an article from Smithsonian curator Michelle Anne Delaney that talks about Hill’s work and the museum efforts to determine if he was indeed a fraud or a genuine trailblazer.

Whatever the case, I still am intrigued by his image.

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