Quadricentennial Celebration of the Hudson River Valley at Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

John William Hill (American, b. England 1812 - 1879), View of the Hudson River from the Palisades, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, with Rainbow, 1873, Watercolor, graphite, and touches of gouache on paper

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s famed voyage up the Hudson in 1609, the exhibition Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New-York Historical Society will be on view at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center from August 14 through November 1, 2009.

The exhibition spans six centuries, from rare mid-sixteenth-century watercolors of European birds—precursors of the work of Audubon—to representations of the World Trade Center before and after September 11, 2001. In addition to the exhibition, related events will include a Garden Party (August 16); lecture by exhibition curator Roberta J. M. Olson, Curator of Drawings, New-York Historical Society (September 11), and concert by Hudson River storyteller and legend, Pete Seeger (October 10). All are free and open to the public.

Exhibition highlights include: Astounding visual records from early voyages of discovery; Renderings of Native Americans; Views of now-vanished sites, such as New York’s Federal Hall (the nation’s first capitol); Picturesque views of the sublime American landscape; Representations of events that shook the nation, including the American Civil War and September 11, 2001; Images that evoke America’s growing wealth and power, such as Charles Dana Gibson’s satirical pictures of Gilded Age society; Celebrations of the American people, from portraits of explorers, artists, and inventors to images of immigrants, street vendors, and workers.

Organized by the New-York Historical Society, Drawn by New York will provide an overview of the depth and range of the Historical Society’s important holdings, while allowing visitors a unique insight into America’s evolving image. The Art Center’s exhibition is a selection of 81 works from the larger, groundbreaking exhibition held at the New-York Historical Society in the fall 2008. These range from one of the first-known views of New York City (c. 1650) to Donna Levinstone’s depictions of the World Trade Center (Eternal Rest, 2002), as well as works by John James Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin, Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, William Glackens, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios, and John Singer Sargent.

“Drawn by New York offers a rare opportunity to rediscover America through the kaleidoscopic lens of this extraordinary collection,” notes Dr. Roberta J. M. Olson, curator of drawings at the New-York Historical Society and of the exhibition. “Since many of the outstanding watercolors and drawings were executed before the advent of photography, they not only document lost buildings, customs, and landscapes but also preserve images of significant events and individuals who played vital roles in the history of the nation and the city.”

The New-York Historical Society’s collection of watercolors and drawings was the first established in any public institution in the United States and includes a special concentration of works that reflect New York’s scenery, settlements, citizens, and collecting patterns (including its early sixteenth-century watercolors). Yet until now, this extraordinary trove of some 8,500 original works of art has never been the subject of a traveling exhibition.

From one of the first-known views of New York City, dating around 1650, to an early bird’s-eye-view of Niagara Falls as well as early sketchbooks establishing the itinerary of the grand tour of North America, Drawn by New York celebrates the artists and vistas that entranced them.

Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Center, noted that one focal point of the exhibition is the development of landscape art and plein air sketching, especially in the regions bordering the Hudson River, with works by Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and Jasper Cropsey. Following this theme, she noted that the exhibition also features a beautiful watercolor by William Guy Wall of the Palisades along the Hudson River. A preparatory study for the seminal series of aquatints entitled The Hudson River Portfolio of 1820–25, these prints demonstrated an early interest in the art of landscape in America and were the namesake of the Hudson River School.

In addition to works by more celebrated artists, such as Audubon, Bierstadt, Catlin, Glackens, Tiffany, and Sargent, there are fascinating works by lesser-known figures such as the Baroness Hyde de Neuville, whose elegant sheets preserve the people and landscapes of early nineteenth-century America. Among these are drawings of inventor Robert Fulton (1798) by noted Kingston, NY artist John Vanderlyn, as well as a 1796 view of Poughkeepsie by Alexander Robertson.

Among the other important artistic and historical themes highlighted in the exhibition are the changing role of draftsmanship in America (beginning with the utilitarian work of topographical draftsmen and the sketches of travelers) and the influence of New York City as an early center for artists and for the publishers who often reproduced their works.

The formation of the Historical Society’s collection over two centuries also opens a window onto patronage and collecting in New York and the United States. Its collection of drawings dates from 1816 with the gift of two portraits of historical importance. Through the years, the collection, a national treasure, continued to develop according to the Society’s mission of acquiring works for their historical evidence. As can be seen in the numerous portraits and landscapes on view, the museum’s holdings are especially rich in works from the late eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, although these portrayals of significant people and events continue to contemporary times.

Drawn by New York is accompanied by the first catalogue of the New-York Historical Society’s collection of watercolors and drawings, recently awarded the highest honor by the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC). Emily Bellew Neff, Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and chair of the AAMC Permanent Collection Jury noted, “It is a huge challenge to take on such a wide-ranging collection and distill it, and then create a balance between those works celebrated for their iconographical content versus those of sheer artistry. This catalogue succeeds in showcasing the breadth and complexity of the New-York Historical Society’s collection.”

The 450-page, fully illustrated book, published by the New-York Historical Society in association with D Giles Limited, features an interpretive essay by the exhibition curator Roberta Olson and extensive entries for each work in the exhibition at Vassar and at the larger venue in New York City. An illustrated brochure with checklist will also accompany the presentation of the exhibition at the Lehman Loeb Art Center.

Following its presentation at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the exhibition will travel to the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio (November 20, 2009 through January 17, 2010).

The exhibition at the New-York Historical Society and the publication of the catalogue and its research were generously supported by The Getty Foundation, Leonard L. and Ellen Milberg, Barbara and Richard Debs, Pam and Scott Schafler, Eli Wilner & Company, Inc., The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Alexander Acevedo, and Graham Arader.

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