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Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford

October 8, 2003 - February 8, 2004


The noted American painter Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) - a master of the atmospheric landscape, who was the subject of the very first monographic exhibition in the Metropolitan's history 123 years ago - will be the subject of a major new retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall. This showing of Gifford's work will be the first in more than 30 years and only the second since his Memorial Exhibition at the Museum in 1880. Opening on October 7, Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford will feature some 70 paintings reflecting the artist's travels in America, Europe, and the Middle East. (right: The Ruins of the Parthenon, 1880, oil on canvas, 27-5/8 x 53-3/8 inches (70.2 x 135.6 cm), In the Collection of The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Museum Purchase)

Brought together from museums and private collections in America and abroad, the works in the exhibition will include several that have never before been shown. A highlight will be Gifford's last major painting, the ethereal masterpiece of sunlight and shadow from 1880 The Ruins of the Parthenon, Looking South-west from the Acropolis over the Head of the Saronic Gulf (Corcoran Gallery of Art).

Sanford Gifford began training in New York City to be a portrait painter, but - inspired by the work of the American landscapist Thomas Cole - turned to landscape painting. Gifford spent the summer of 1846 touring and sketching in the Catskill and Berkshire mountains, and by 1847, had begun to show his work at the American Art-Union and the National Academy of Design, where he was elected an associate in 1851 and an academician in 1854.

In 1855, Gifford traveled to Europe, where he spent two-and-a-half years visiting the great repositories of art and sketching scenery in England, Scotland, France, the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. In England, he admired the color and light in the paintings of J. M. W. Turner, and discussed his work with the critic John Ruskin. Gifford was also impressed by the work of the French landscape painters of the Barbizon school, but wrote in his journal of the dangers of surrendering to a particular method or school of painting, lest they "usurp the place of Nature." (right: Hunter Mountain, Twilight, 1866, oil on canvas, 30-5/8 x 54-1/8 inches (77.8 x 137.5 cm), Terra Foundation for the Arts, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

When Gifford returned to the United States in 1857, he took up quarters in the new Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City but left it nearly every summer to sketch in the countryside. Favorite settings in this period were the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and various locales in Maine and Nova Scotia. The artist's fascination with the transfiguring effects of light on the native scenery is apparent in works such as the 1862 painting Gorge in the Mountains (formerly Kauterskill Clove), in which the blazing noon sun hovers over an idyllic mountain gorge (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

During the early years of the Civil War, Gifford served in New York's renowned Seventh Regiment. His experiences during the war inspired a number of paintings of campsites in Virginia and Maryland, and informed several works, such as Hunter Mountain, Twilight (Terra Museum of American Art), a melancholy landscape of 1866.

In 1868, Gifford went abroad for a second and last time, spending more than a year traveling in Europe and the Near East. The mirrorlike waters and luminous aerial effects that typify Leander's Tower on the Bosphorus (1870) and Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore (1871) are based on studies from this time (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively).

Gifford, along with notable artists and civic leaders of the day, was a founder of New York City's Metropolitan Museum in 1870. After he died in 1880, he was honored with the Metropolitan's first monographic retrospective and a memorial catalogue of his known pictures. (right: A Gorge in the Mountains, 1862, oil on canvas, 48 x 39-7/8 inches (121.9 x 101.3 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 [15.30.62])

The Hudson River School, first identified at the end of its heyday, was a fraternity of artists who worked principally in New York City from about 1840 to 1875. Together, they raised landscape painting to preeminent status in America in the mid-19th century. Originally attracted by the grandeur of natural scenery along the Hudson River and in New England, the painters interpreted both the wilderness and the pastoral face of a growing and changing nation.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was the founding figure of the school. He drew the engraver Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) to landscape painting, and together they constituted the first generation of the group. Cole and Durand influenced a second generation of younger painters, including Gifford and his colleagues Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), John Kensett (1816-1872), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), and Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910).

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. The book will feature essays by the exhibition's co-curators Kevin Avery and Franklin Kelly, and by Eleanor Jones Harvey, Luce Center Curator, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Heidi Applegate, doctoral candidate, Columbia University. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue will be available in the Museum's Book Shops. The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the William Cullen Bryant Fellows of the Metropolitan Museum.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a variety of educational programs will be scheduled. These will include two slide-illustrated lectures on Saturday, December 13, by Mr. Avery and Mr. Kelly, followed by the screening of a documentary film on the paintings of the Hudson River School, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. These programs are free with Museum admission.

After its showing at the Metropolitan Museum, the exhibition will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas) from March 6 through May 16, 2004, and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) from June 27 through September 26, 2004.

The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition is organized by Franklin Kelly, Senior Curator of British and American Painting, The National Gallery of Art, and Kevin J. Avery, Associate Curator, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the assistance of Claire A. Conway, Research Assistant, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture.

The Museum's website http://www.metmuseum.org/ will include a special feature about the exhibition.

Metropolitan Museum of Art's MetPublications, an online resource that offers in-depth access to the Museum's print and online publications, covering art, art history, archaeology, conservation, and collecting.includes the following title available for.pdf download: Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford; Avery, Kevin J., and Franklin Kelly, with Claire A. Conway, and essays by Heidi Applegate and Eleanor James Harvey (2003)

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