One can enjoy an exhibition while rejecting its central premise, as one must when the art on the walls does not support that premise. “From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic,” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, postulates a Philadelphia-centered “Schuylkill River School” that “gave birth to the better-known Hudson River School.”1 The exhibition strives mightily to show the continuity between the two, in the process revealing a fundamental discontinuity. As it happens, that discontinuity is itself fascinating.

The Hudson River School is the wildly popular school of landscape painting that flourished in antebellum...


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