National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

IMAGE: Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, June 27 - September 26, 2004

Exhibition Information | Selected Highlights


Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) was one of the leading members of the Hudson River School, a loosely affiliated group of landscape painters active in mid-nineteenth-century America. Like his contemporaries and fellow members of the Hudson River School, Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, Worthington Whittredge, and John Kensett, Gifford played a key role in establishing landscape painting as the preeminent mode of American art of this period.

Though their individual styles varied, most Hudson River School painters used meticulous detail to convey as much visual information about nature as possible. Gifford's aim, however, was to create works that evoked the experience of seeing the natural world. As a contemporary noted of his paintings: "they do not dazzle, they win; they appeal to our calm and thoughtful appreciation; they minister to our most gentle and gracious sympathies, to our most tranquil and congenial observation."

Gifford was born and raised in Hudson, New York. He was inspired to become an artist by the example of the pioneering landscape painter Thomas Cole, who from 1834 until his death in 1848 lived directly across the Hudson River in the town of Catskill. For Gifford, as for Cole, the scenery of the Catskill Mountains became a primary source of inspiration, and Gifford made repeated visits to the area throughout his life. He began exhibiting paintings in New York in 1847, and his reputation grew during the early 1850s. From 1855 to 1857 Gifford traveled through Europe, visiting England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, where he carefully studied the works of the old masters and contemporary painters. Upon his return to New York, he began showing works that were larger and more artistically ambitious, and he was soon recognized by critics and the public as one of the premier painters of the day. During the Civil War Gifford served in New York State's National Guard and made several tours of duty in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. In 1868-1869 he took a second trip abroad, this time traveling extensively in the Near East.

During the 1870s, when the careers of such artists as Church and Cropsey were on the wane and their art was increasingly considered old-fashioned, Gifford enjoyed recognition as one of the leading figures in American art. At the age of fifty-seven and at the height of his powers as an artist, Gifford died from malarial fever, leaving behind some of the most beautiful and richly resonant landscapes of the era.

Exhibition Information | Selected Highlights