It is 1998.
It is a warm Friday in Manhattan. I am at the Met, enjoying the string quartet, the art and the air conditioning.
I look at amazing art from around the world. I pass the ‘American’ section. I almost don’t stop, but I blaze through the early American work and then confront a painting of a forest by Albert Bierstadt. I am stunned by his technical mastery, evident in the light filtering between the boughs.
This is the Hudson River Valley School.
There is another painting by Frederick Church. It is older, and slightly less impressive than the Bierstadt. Church was the founder of the school.
I want to know about where their inspiration came from. A month later I drive up the Hudson River. The leaves are turning. The gray skies and the sheen of rain give them an entirely different quality of color than sunny skies.
I get it.
I have arranged, through the Albany weekly newspaper, to dine with a woman who knows about art in general, but specifically the Hudson River Valley School. We have a great evening. She tells me Frederick Church built a Moorish-style house called Olana on a hill overlooking the river.
I stop there on my return south. It’s an amazing place, with an equally amazing view. And the colors of the leaves were stupendous.
Some time later.
I am in Seattle. The art museum is showing the retrospective of Thomas Moran, one of the Hudson River Valley School. He is called ‘The Father of the National Parks System’. There hasn’t been a retrospective before because the core pieces are extremely large – 7 feet x 12 feet, something like that. And they are astonishing.
He painted ‘The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone’ down to the lizards on the rocks. When Congress considered establishing a National Parks System, one of Moran’s giant paintings was transported to Washington, delivered to the House floor, and examined by Senators and Congressmen, who decided to go forward with the National Parks.
Sure glad I stopped and looked in on the ‘American’ section at the Met.