Study for “View from High Tor, Haverstraw, New York"
John William Hill’s jewel-like watercolor sketch for the more finished watercolor in the N-YHS (1958.125), which is three times its size and is one of twenty drawings and watercolors in the collection by the artist. It immediacy vividly communicates the meteorology of the windy, sunny day on the Hudson River. The artist first sketched the composition freely in graphite, eventually framing his composition with graphite lines.
The artist would have then made another study on a separate sheet of paper in graphite, perhaps on the spot. With both studies as guides, Hill then painted the finished watercolor in his studio. This vivacious watercolor sketch and its relationship to View from High Tor, Haverstraw, New York sheds light on the working method claimed by the American Pre-Raphaelites and demonstrates that Hill produced sketches in nature, which he consulted when executing the more highly finished watercolor in the studio.
Hill read John Ruskin’s sensational Modern Painters (first published in England in 1843; American edition 1847) around 1855 and was greatly affected by the critic’s passionate appeal that artists reject artistic interpretation in favor of a meticulous transcription of the visible world. Such ideas contradicted the notion of the sublime that was integral to the work of the Hudson River School but had found favor in England with the Pre-Raphaelites. Embracing Ruskin’s ideas, Hill began to paint directly from nature, eventually adopting a stippling technique favored by the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1863, he became a founding member of their American counterparts, the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art, and was elected its first president.
Located near Clarkstown and Haverstraw in Rockland County, New York, High Tor is now a state park. High Tor measures 797 feet and nearby Little Tor 620 feet. They are the highest peaks in all of the Hudson Palisades. High Tor was used as a signal point during the American Revolution for the colonist and was used as an air raid watch during World War II.