Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Henry Ary Painting Rediscovered

It may be said that Henry Ary is the most Hudson of the Hudson River School painters. He wasn't born here, as Sanford Gifford and Ernest and Arthur Parton were. Ary was from Providence, Rhode Island, but he came to Hudson when he was thirty something, made his living as an artist here, and stayed here for the rest of his life. 

Ary began his career painting portraits in Albany. Gossips has told the stories of two of his more notorious works: the portrait of Martin Van Buren, which incited a riot, and the portrait of George Washington, which still hangs in the Council Room at City Hall. In 1833, Ary, then 26, moved to Catskill, where he met Thomas Cole. It was Cole who persuaded him to try his hand at landscape painting. Ary settled in Hudson a decade later, around the time, in 1845, when he started exhibiting his landscapes at the National Academy of Design.

South Bay and Mt. Merino were favorite views for Ary, and in his paintings he doesn't try to idealize the landscape by leaving out the presence of commerce and industry. Art historians see this as evidence that Ary "viewed this aspect as a harmonious part of nature." It has also been suggested that the patronage of Elihu Gifford, the owner of the Hudson Iron Works and father of artist Sanford Gifford, may have played some part in Ary's seemingly benign attitude toward the intrusion into the landscape of industry and commerce. Whatever the explanation, the Ary's inclusiveness makes his paintings wonderful documentation of Hudson in the middle of the 19th century.

Recently, Peter Jung was commissioned to sell a little known Henry Ary painting, and it is with the permission of the owner, who now lives in North Carolina, and Jung that Gossips shares it with readers.

This painting of Promenade Hill is dated 1854, the year Ary started teaching drawing and painting to fourth year students at Rev. Hague's Hudson Female Academy, which was located at 400 State Street. It shows sloops on the river, a wharf and buildings at the bottom of the bluff, the Hudson Iron Works in the background and Mt. Merino beyond, and Promenade Hill before the fence was erected and the Georgian style mall was "Victorianized" in 1878.


  1. Wonderful! But I don't see the rotting cement building or rotting Holcim tower.
    Thank you Peter Jung for this exquisite painting. If only we start over again.

  2. Beautiful! What a treat. Thank you Peter and Carole.

  3. "Georgian Style Mall"
    Would love to know what this means Carole.
    The Promenade grounds / mounds has always confused me ...

    1. Needless to say, the term mall, as I used it and as it was used in the 18th century, has nothing to do with a shopping mall. The definition that applies is "a usually public area often set with shade trees and designed as a promenade or as a pedestrian walk" (Merriam-Webster). I call it Georgian because it was part of the Proprietors' original plan for the city, which was typical of Georgian urban design, reflecting order and symmetry. I also recall a landscape historian once calling Promenade Hill "a rare surviving example of a Georgian townscape." As a mall, it can probably be seen as a distant humble cousin of L'Enfant's design for the National Mall in Washington, DC, which was pretty much contemporary with the creation of Promenade Hill.

      As far as the "mounds" are concerned, I think they were originally just flat areas of grass, creating a kind of carpet pattern of green areas set among the stone paths. I'm pretty sure the retaining walls were added in 1878, when Promenade Hill and the Public Square both were beautified, and I have a feeling that much of the mounding we see now is a consequence of a few episodes of adding fresh topsoil and reseeding, but that's just a guess.

      It would be lovely to have a historic landscape study done on Promenade Hill so we could all understand it better.

    2. Mall - as in Pall Mall - the avenue leading up to Buckingham Palace, probably a Georgian design

  4. I wish we could see just a little more detail, but even as it is, it's a treat.

    A historic study of the Promenade should make a tidy thesis for someone.

  5. Notice the absence of fences...

    1. Because the railroads created the original "fences," what I'm trying to see here is whether Ary included the already-installed tracks that separated the South Bay from the greater river.

      Gossips brings up a good question about Ary's patron when you consider that the railroad was not his patron. (Yet whole track routes were sited in order to satisfy Gifford.)

      I believe that the line that cuts diagonally cross-river in this painting is the wake of what appears to be a steam boat approaching the viewer by the second shed (again, too low-res to be sure).

      Also, the tracks would be to the left of the Iron Works and not to the right, where that diagonal line (/boat wake?) is in this painting.

      Ary put the tracks in his later South Bay paintings in the 1870s, but that's not the same as omitting them in 1854. It's impossible to tell from this .jpg what he actually did here, but it would be an important question for Ary scholars.

    2. unheimlich: I don't think from this vantage point you would necessarily see the tracks today--certainly not the ones at the bottom of the bluff.

      Ary has two other paintings that clearly show the railroads. One shows the Hudson River Railroad going across the mouth of South Bay on a trestle. (I saw that painting back in 1997.) Another shows the Hudson Berkshire Railroad passing over the southern part of South Bay. (This painting is reproduced on Gossips:

      I think you may be mistaken about the date of Ary's "later South Bay paintings." He died in 1859.

    3. Died in '59?!

      I've been working on a painting with a later date attributed to it which I didn't question. So much for my curatorial skills!

      But for the vantage from the Promenade, in 1854 there were only water and tracks below the Iron Works. I think you'd really have to see the tracks in Ary's Promenade painting.

      Yes, I was referring to those other paintings you mentioned above, only misremembering the estimated dates.

      The painting at the older Gossips post (address above) also shows the much-older Hudson and Berkshire line in the foreground, which dead-ended near present-day Broad Street. Now the ADM spur, it's among the oldest lines in the country, chartered in 1832 and opened in 1838:

    4. The following page says the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad was chartered in 1828! Does anyone have anything more specific on this? I'd love to know.

    5. According to Margaret Schram, who I would trust a little more than I would Wikipedia, the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad was incorporated in New York in 1828 and in Massachusetts in 1831. They started selling subscriptions for stocks in May 1835, and by May 1837, "the thirty-two miles of the line were under grading." (See page 119 of Hudson's Merchants and Whalers.)

    6. Carole,

      That is correct. Your friend Oliver Wiswall was one of the New York agents authorized to see shares according to the act which incorporated the railroad. Each share was $50 and he was paid $5 for each share he sold.