John William Casilear was born in New York City on June 25, 1811. Like his fellow Hudson River School landscapists Asher B. Durand and John F. Kensett, he worked as an engraver before turning to painting. In 1826 Casilear was apprenticed to the engraver Peter Maverick (1780-1831), and at first he primarily executed bank notes. Durand encouraged him to attempt other subjects, however, and during the 1830s he madeengravings after some of the most prominent paintings of the day, including Daniel Huntington's The Sybil (New-York Historical Society). In 1832 he began submitting engravings to the National Academy of Design exhibition and he first showed paintings there in 1836. In 1833 Casilear was elected an Associate of the Academy; he was elevated to full Academician status in 1851.
In 1840 Casilear accompanied Durand, Kensett, and another painter, Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-1871), on a trip to Europe. There the artists studied and copied paintings by the Old Master, especially Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), and made sketches from nature. When he returned to New York in 1843 Casilear resumed his career as an engraver. By 1854 he was able to open his own studio in New York and begin painting landscapes fulltime. Casilear's paintings enjoyed great popularity in his day and were purchased by some of the leading collectors of the period, including Marshall O. Roberts, Robert L. Stuart, and Robert M. Olyphant.
In June of 1857 Casilear went abroad again, where he spent two summers sketching, mainly in Switzerland. Through the 1860s and 1870s he continued to travel, regularly revisiting favorite sites in the northeast, but also making a trip to the west in 1873. He painted into the early 1890s, and died in Saratoga, New York, on August 17, 1893. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Sears, Clara Endicott. Highlights Among the Hudson River Artists. Boston, 1947: 109-113.
Novak, Barbara, and Annette Blaugrund, eds. Next to Nature: Landscape Paintings From The National Academy of Design. New York, 1980: 53-56.
Keyes, Donald D. "John W. Casilear: A Series of Drawings of the New Hampshire White Mountains." Record of The Art Museum Princeton University 44 (1985): 15-23.
American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. Intro John K. Howat. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987: 7, 12, 33, 52, 53, 59, 61, 62, 86, 89, 103, 118, 141-144, 149, 179, 180, 269, 307.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 51.