Worthington Whittredge first arrived in New York City in August of 1859. During his first weeks as a New Yorker, he lived like a tourist, visiting the different sites New York had to offer. During one visit to the New York Historical Society, he was exposed to the works of Thomas Cole and Asher Durand and immediately wanted to be a part of the Hudson River school. After submitting a painting to the National Academy of Design and later being elected as an associate member of the Academy in the winter of 1860, Whittredge had spent the summer sketching the Hudson River. During this period Whittredge was looking to define himself as an American artist after a decade abroad in Europe.
Picnic on the Hudson is a significant canvas painted circa 1860 as Whittredge was purposely transitioning his European training and experience into a purely American style and genre. He had returned from Europe and embarked upon a series of sketching and painting trips along the Hudson River. The work of Asher B. Durand had a fresh and crucial impact on Whittredge and he was determined to adopt some of Durand’s manner of landscape painting into his own work. He was inspired to paint the great river using a luminist approach and with the challenge of interspersing numerous figures along the riverbank. It may have been Winslow Homer’s illustrations of similar compositions and themes, fashionable and well known at this time that led Whittredge to render a series of works based on this idea.
Anthony Janson has cited in his corresponding letter that this work is one of Whittredge’s earliest and most intriguing canvases of a series of paintings he executed beginning in 1860. There are several other picnic compositions, sketches and views of West Point that correspond to this piece. He believes the location to show Grand View just below South Nyack. The two keys to the composition are the small seminary on the far bank and the large brick factory building situated directly on the edge of the river. This large factory was destroyed at some juncture making it difficult to identify. Janson makes a strong argument towards this being the location as opposed to other possibilities along the Hudson.
As a stunning example of American painting in the 1860’s, this painting has all the rarest components of Hudson River School painting. The right hand side which spans the river and distant shore are lit with a luminous and delightful white light that is mirrored in the water. He has accurately captured reflections of the buildings and shore along the surface of the river. He remarkably divides his canvas down the center in an unconventional manner positioning the heavy and dense element of the landscape on the left side of the canvas. The figures flirt and dart among the trees, a rare element for any of these early artists to use in their work. Many 1860’s views have little human presence let alone that of a frolicking group of refined individuals perhaps out from the city for a weekend’s enjoyment. Often these artists chose to depict solitary figures fishing or farmers at their work. Yet this area along Nyack was very much a playground for wealthy city dwellers. It is a composition that was challenging for Whittredge and would also demonstrate his ability to do a very “American” scene.
Purchased prior to 1900 by the Scovell family, White Plains, NY
Descended in the family