The Chosen People: The Hudson River School and the Construction of American Identity
This article considers nineteenth-century riverscapes of the Hudson in relation to the formation of American identity. It argues that riverscapes in the United States contributed to welding a national identity to a Christian one, although officially the identities were distinct. I examine the role of the Hudson River School in the creation of the ‘wilderness’ as an image of American homeland, and how this construct incorporated the iconic figure of the Euro-American Christian ‘pilgrim-pioneer.’ America looked more to the future than to the past for its national narrative, and an orientation to the future was symbolized in art by the flow of the Hudson toward distant horizons, while the pioneer identity was extended to embrace the entrepreneur-developer. The pioneer has remained an iconic figure for American nationalism, but is now more firmly located in the nation’s past; Janus’s gaze has been adjusted, demonstrating the potentially fluid character of nationalist discourse.
Painting; The Hudson River School; American Identity; Christian identity; pilgrim-pioneer; fluidity; nationalist discourse
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