Autumn Landscape is an exceptional example of Thomas Doughty's contribution to American landscape painting. Doughty, a founder of the Hudson River School, was the first American artist to devote himself exclusively to landscape painting, and his romantic depictions of the Northeast reflect a unique bond between man and nature. "Each of his pictures is built out of the emotion of communion with nature. Usually, although not always, it contains a solitary wandering figure -- a fisherman casting his line in the lonely river, hunter with a gun, or a single traveler on the road -- which is a symbol of the artist's own relation to nature. Like the sage gazing at the mountains in a Chinese landscape, these little figures say to the imagination: it is good to be here, in this solitary valley, lingering by this stream, looking at these hills." (E. P. Richardson, Painting in America From 1502 to the Present, New York, 1965, p. 157) In Autumn Landscape a solitary man can be seen walking with his dogs along a stream. This man is a familiar figure in Doughty's paintings; he is content and at peace with nature. Doughty himself had a strong bond with nature, and he used the figures in his paintings to demonstrate this intense connection.
Doughty's technique is also remarkable for its precise and accurate portrayal of the landscape. Robert R. Gilmore, a prestigious Baltimore collector and patron of the Hudson River School painters, lauded Doughty's work for his depiction of the natural landscape, contrasting him against his colleague Thomas Cole "on the grounds that they [Cole's works] lacked his earlier 'pleasing verity of nature'" and claimed that Doughty's "pictures were pleasing, because the scene was real, the foliage varied and unmannered and the broken ground and rocks and the masses had the very impress of being after originals, and not ideals." Gilmore advised Cole, saying: "I prefer real American scenes to compositions, leaving the distribution of light, choice of atmosphere and clouds, and in short all that is to render its natural effect as pleasing and spirited the artist can feel permitted to do, without violation of its truth."(as quoted in B. Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century, New York, 1969, p. 66)
Thomas Doughty began his first career as a leather currier in Philadelphia, a vocation that he abandoned after discovering his love for nature along the eastern seaboard. Essentially self-taught, Doughty became one of the first American landscape painters and a founding member of the Hudson River School. His works from the 1820s and 1830s depicting sites in rural New York, Boston, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are considered to be his finest. Doughty painted Autumn Landscape in Boston in 1835, the same year he completed In Nature's Wonderland (Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan). The latter, perhaps his best known work, also captures the profound effect that nature has on man. In the mid 1840s Doughty settled in Manhattan where he remained until his death in 1856.