By Mario R. Mercado
August 26, 2013

Probably few regions in the United States have influenced American artists as significantly as the Hudson River Valley. The painters of the so-called Hudson River School, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, and Asher Durand, among others, created a grand vision of 19th-century landscape, comparable yet distinct from the Romantic movements in England and continental Europe.

Travel informed their vision, of course, and the artistic response extended beyond the Hudson to New England, the American West, and to Italy, including idealized antiquity. The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York brings together 45 paintings that put on display the full range of the artists’ inspiration. There may be to no better place to consider their work than in Cooperstown, New York, an icon of American history—the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper made his home there as does today the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum—that is also a showcase for the innovative opera and musical theater of the Glimmerglass Festival.

Anyone who has traveled by car or train—or hiked—though the Hudson Valley is struck by the timelessness of the landscape. Now, visitors and hikers alike can follow the Hudson River School Art Trail, which identifies some 21 spots in the Hudson Valley and New England that inspired the painters (trail maps can be downloaded online). Key among them is Olana, the residence, studio, gardens, and estate of the painter Frederic Church in Hudson, New York. Olana, which is open year-round, offers sweeping views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills in each season and exhibitions that consider Church and his circle as well as works by contemporary artists Annie Leibovitz and Lynn Davis.

Mario Mercado is Travel + Leisure's Arts Editor