Hudson River School Artists in the Garden

“To walk with nature as a poet is the necessary condition of a perfect artist.”


Thomas Cole

A painting of two figures on the banks of a creek with mountain range in the distance.
View on the Catskill—Early Autumn by Thomas Cole, 1836-37, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift in memory of Jonathan Sturges by his children, 1895.

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site presents Greg Wyatt’s sculptural portraits of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, and Sandford Gifford—artists whose painted landscapes sparked the idea that beauty could justify preservation. At a critical point in the history of the American Conservation Movement, Moran, Bierstadt, and Gifford captured the nation’s vast, epic landscapes, as well as the intimacy and spiritual renewal made possible in the presence of nature. Wyatt’s sculptures, situated harmoniously in a garden landscape, invite visitors to contemplate the power of art to shape human relationships and the natural world.

A bronze bust of a male head and shoulders.

Thomas Cole

American (born in England), 1801-1848

In 1825, Thomas Cole discovered the haunting beauty of the Catskill wilderness. His exhibition of small paintings of Catskill landscapes came to the attention of prominent figures, including David Hosack, a patron of Cole and early owner of Hyde Park. Cole’s reverence for the American landscape inspired several generations of painters that are collectively known as the Hudson River School. Their paintings represented the American landscape with simultaneous grandeur and nuance, characterized by picturesque beauty and sublimity, deep reverence for luminous expression of color and light, and the total immersion of the artist into nature.

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A bronze bust of a male head and shoulders.

Thomas Moran

American (born in England), 1837-1926

In 1871, the Northern Pacific Railroad sponsored Thomas Moran’s trip with the US Geological Survey of the region that became Yellowstone National Park. One year later, Moran’s paintings were featured in the Survey’s official report to Congress, conveying both the scientific and scenic wonders of Yellowstone. Congress was so impressed, they purchased his 7’x12’ Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for the Senate Lobby, and passed the legislation creating the world’s first national park in 1872.

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A bronze bust of a male head and shoulders.

Albert Bierstadt

American (born in Prussia), 1830-1902

At the height of his career, Albert Bierstadt made his first trip to the Yosemite Valley in 1863. “We are now here in the Garden of Eden I call it,” Bierstadt proclaimed. In Yosemite, Bierstadt found the muse of a lifetime, and he translated that experience into paintings that inspired the effort to conserve permanently a public land. Solely on the value of its inherent beauty, Congress passed the Yosemite Land Grant Act in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War.

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A bronze bust of a male head and shoulders.

Sanford Gifford

American (born in New York), 1823-1880

Unlike his contemporary Bierstadt, Sanford Gifford’s works tend to feel more pastoral than grand, more intimate than spectacular. A master of painting the subtle effects of light, many of Gifford’s works capture the experience of sunrise and sunsets. Gifford traveled extensively, but he spent considerable time nearby in the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire where he painted some of his most famous pieces.

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About the Artist

Greg Wyatt is the Sculptor-in-Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Director of the Academy of Art, Newington-Cropsey Foundation. His works include nine permanently placed homage bronze monuments at Shakespeare’s Great Garden, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, 1999-2008; The Price of Freedom, heroic scale bronze monument, Arlington National Cemetery, VA, 2010; and permanent works at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC.

The Newington-Cropsey Foundation generously funded this installation, which is the fourth in a series that includes the Hudson River School Artists Garden at Boscobel House and Gardens (2015), Yellowstone National Park (2017-2018), and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (2019-2021).

A three quarter portrait of a man wearing a coat.
David Hosack by Rembrandt Peale. Courtesy Columbia University.

About the Garden

The gardens at Hyde Park were first developed by Samuel Bard, son of John Bard, a respected physician in New York City. Bard built a large house, where the Vanderbilt mansion stands today, and a garden and greenhouse, though the exact location is not known.

Within eight years following his death in 1820, Samuel Bard’s heirs sold Hyde Park to his former student and partner, Dr. David Hosack. Hosack was an avid horticulturist. He established the Elgin Botanical Gardens in 1801, the first botanic garden in the United States. Hosack invested in numerous landscape improvements at Hyde Park and welcomed visitors. Soon Hyde Park became “an obligatory stopping point on the Hudson.” Hosack’s garden was described by Andrew Jackson Downing as beautiful, with “herbaceous flowering plants, in arabesque beds, along the walks.” The exact location of Hosack’s gardens and conservatory are also unknown, but they were likely somewhat further north than the current gardens, perhaps just south of the ginkgo tree.

In 1840, Hyde Park was acquired by Walter Langdon and his wife Dorothea Astor Langdon, a gift from her father John Jacob Astor. Walter Langdon died in 1847 and passed the estate to his children. Over the course of several years, Walter Langdon, Jr. bought the interests of his siblings, so that by 1852 he was the sole owner. Langdon began the development of a new complex of greenhouses and gardens where the Vanderbilt gardens are today. Langdon’s new complex of gardens were constructed on a series of rectangular terraces that stepped down the hillside. It was this foundation upon which the Vanderbilts began to build.

The Vanderbilts' modifications of the formal gardens were typical of late Gilded Age garden design. These gardens reflected the values of wealthy Americans who traveled abroad and admired the great gardens of Europe. Particularly influential at this time were Italian gardens. Principal features of the Italian garden included geometric patterning, axial spatial organization, and interconnection of parts by sight lines. While some gardens firmly held to Andrew Jackson Downing’s preference for “natural” lines as a counterpoint to the harsh geometry of the city, other gardens followed to more formal design principles. The Vanderbilts, like many of their contemporaries, combined elements of both the picturesque, or natural style, and the European formal style at Hyde Park. The Vanderbilts continued the botanical traditions and preserved the romantic landscape features developed by Hyde Park’s previous owners, but modified the existing formal gardens to reflect the era's taste for gardens in the Italian style.

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A bronze sculpture of a man's face set within a formal garden.
Portrait of Albert Bierstadt in the Vanderbilt formal gardens. NPS photo.

Last updated: August 4, 2022

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