Cropsey Red

Fall is a good time to go out and look for “Cropsey Red.” Not just any red leaves, but the red that clings to the trunk resulting from vines that turn red and result in red structural center in a fall tree.

Fall was also a good time for a drive to the National Gallery to view not only trees on the way, but to get another look at a large painting by Jasper Francis Cropsey, “Autumn– On the Hudson River.”

Painted in 1860, the magnitude of the work might cause it to be confused with a Bierstadt, and the seemingly typical nature of the landscape might be passed by without providing much inspiration on the beauty of the scenery. A closer look will reveal the work is actually telling the story of the European settlement of the “new world.”

Follow the scene from right to left and you’ll see what I mean. Let your eye wonder down the path toward the town and into the sunrise. It also attempts to show man as neither subservient or a conquerer of nature. Its this balance thats so important to try to meet today as nature more often strikes back violently against mans abuse.

Leaving Washington and driving up Interstate 95 towards Philadelphia I observed miles of cars waiting at a toll booth, spewing carbon dioxide and thousands of engines idled. This seemed a waste, both in terms of time and economics, but also in terms of the harm done to the planet. Couldn’t each car be affixed with a magnetic strip as part of the inspection process so they could at least keep moving through the tollgate?

The Hudson River Valley certainly still has its charms, but for now it would seem man has taken the position as a conquerer of nature. Cropsey’s scene almost seems naieve, perhaps not unlike Edward Hicks when he painted babies sitting beside wildcats–in peace.

There is an important place in our world for these idealistic sentiments, however. It reminds me of the criticism of Jefferson for owning slaves and writing that “all men are created equal,” a fault no doubt, but a notion of considerable value and one that future generations could strive towards. It was problematic for Jefferson to live up to his ideals, and more importantly problematic for the future society to reconcile itself with these ideals.

Perhaps paintings like Cropsey’s Autumn on the Hudson River can be viewed today in a similar way. How can we reconcile our practices with our ideals? How can we make sure the story our lives tell live up to this notion of a peaceful co-existence with nature?

An example of Cropsey Red in the DeYoung

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at)

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