Hudson River School Master Sanford Gifford Featured in Major Retrospective Coming to the Amon Carter Museum

Release date: 
April 28, 2004

FORT WORTH, Texas --- The innovative nineteenth-century American landscape painter Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823--1880)---a master of light and atmospheric effects---is the subject of a major retrospective that opens at the Amon Carter Museum on March 6 and runs through May 16. "Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford" was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Carter is the only venue beyond the East Coast where these masterworks can be seen.

Brought together from museums and private collections in America and abroad, the exhibition features 70 paintings that reflect the artist's sketching trips in America, Europe and the Middle East as he traveled in search of dramatic vistas and distinctive qualities of light. Many of these paintings have never before been on view to the public, and not since the artist's death in 1880 has his work been the subject of a major retrospective exhibition. The show features the large canvases that Gifford referred to as his "chief pictures" along with brilliant oil sketches and refined oil studies that inspired the larger works. The great majority of Gifford's paintings are highly finished oil studies measuring only 10 by 20 inches. While other artists of the day---notably Albert Bierstadt (1830--1902) and Frederic Edwin Church (1826--1900)---were competing for public attention with their monumental exhibition paintings, Gifford was attracting the attention of fellow painters and devoted patrons by creating vast, luminous landscapes on a small scale.

Gifford's untimely death in 1880 at age 57 cut short the career of this highly original landscape painter, which in part explains why Gifford is a less familiar name to the public today. His period of innovation and maturity extended to a mere 20 years. He came to landscape painting under the spell of Thomas Cole (1801--1848) and was closely connected to the artists we know today as the Hudson River school. However, Gifford moved away from didactic and detailed topographical views, preferring to paint light and atmosphere for their own sake, thereby stripping his compositions down to minimal landscape elements. Gifford painted the light-filled voids of deep canyons as palpably as other artists of his day painted the solid presence of mountains. He died at the height of his career, highly respected by his fellow painters. Gifford, along with Church and John Frederick Kensett (1816--1872), was a founder of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. After he died, he was accorded a memorial exhibition there, which was the first solo artist show in the new Central Park museum.

About Sanford Robinson Gifford

Gifford began training in New York City to be a portrait painter, but after being inspired by the work of American landscape artist Thomas Cole, he turned to landscape painting. Gifford spent the summer of 1846 touring and sketching in the Catskill and Berkshire mountains. By 1846, he 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, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. In England, he admired the color and light in the expressive paintings of J.M.W. Turner. Gifford was also impressed by the moody works of the French landscape painters of the Barbizon school, though he wrote in his journal of the dangers of surrendering to a particular method or school of painting, lest these "usurp the place of Nature."

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 "A Gorge in the Mountains (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 final 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).

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

"Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford" was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The Fort Worth presentation of the exhibition was made possible in part by a generous grant from Bank One Private Client Services.

The "Star-Telegram" is the official print sponsor of the Amon Carter Museum.

Public Programs

March 11, 12:15--12:45 p.m.
Gallery Talk
Views Afoot: Rambles with Sanford Robinson Gifford
Patricia Junker, Curator of Paintings and Sculpture

March 25, 6--7 p.m.
Sanford Gifford's "Keener Perception" of Nature
Eleanor Jones Harvey, Chief Curator, Smithsonian American Art Museum
and contributor to "Hudson River School Vision," the exhibition catalogue


Adults 19 to 61 $6
Youths 18 and under FREE
Seniors 62 and over $4
College students with ID card $4
Museum members FREE
Admission is free on Thursdays, 5 to 8 p.m.

Admission to the permanent collection is free.

Museum Hours

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
Closed Monday and major holidays