Jervis McEntee (1828–1891) was a prolific painter who embodied the ideals of the Hudson River School during a time of great social, political, and artistic changes. Recognized by his contemporaries for his unique talent in depicting the power of the natural landscape, McEntee was one of the only nineteenth-century American artists to have gained recognition in Europe during his lifetime. McEntee’s diaries have long been regarded as a crucial primary source on the history and cultural life of Civil War era New York. However, his paintings have sometimes been overshadowed both by his own writing and the art of his contemporaries, such as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt. Now, 125 years after his death, two retrospectives celebrate McEntee’s work and promise to paint a complete picture of his artistic legacy, reestablishing his prominence in the Hudson River School.
The exhibitions, Jervis McEntee: Kingston’s Artist of the Hudson River School, presented by Friends of Historic Kingston and Jervis McEntee: Painter-Poet of the Hudson River School at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, seek to analyze McEntee’s art from a new perspective. The two retrospectives are the first exhibitions to focus solely on McEntee’s art, aiming to garner new visibility for the artist and reconstruct his prominence as a painter.
Born in 1828 in Rondout, New York (now part of Kingston) McEntee lived at the epicenter of the emerging romantic landscape style. Seeking to depart from the grandiosity of historical, mythological, and religious themes, romantic artists instead sought to capture the inherent serenity and spirituality of the natural landscape. McEntee primarily painted autumn and winter scenes, observed during walks around his native Rondout. These works are distinguished by McEntee’s characteristic attention to detail, and exhibit influence from such prominent Hudson River School artists as Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and Frederic Edwin Church.
McEntee found artistic success early on in his career. In 1850, he was accepted as a student by Church, and shortly thereafter exhibited several of his paintings at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York. Alongside Church and Bierstadt, McEntee maintained a residence at the Tenth Street Studio Building, which served as an important center of artistic activity and public exhibition space. McEntee was well-known in the New York art world, and was one of the few artists to hold individual exhibitions at the prominent Century Association, whose members dominated the cultural life of the city.
Joyce Beckenstein’s insightful New York Times review of the current McEntee retrospectives offers an explanation for the tendency of McEntee’s work to be overlooked despite his successful career. It is suggested that the popularity of Barbizon and Impressionism overshadowed the work of McEntee, who may have struggled to maintain a uniquely personal style in the face of newer artistic movements. In fact, McEntee resisted the emerging trends that moved away from the Hudson River School, eschewing the looser style of Impressionism to focus on detailed landscapes. Moreover, unlike Church and Bierstadt, who were particularly conscious of cultivating their prominence in the press and who openly competed for the media title “monarch of landscape painters,” McEntee did not seek to captivate public attention, foregoing recognition by the press for a quieter social realm and preferring to spend time among the landscapes of Rondout. Nevertheless, McEntee enjoyed recognition and prominence on the art market well into the 1880s, pointing to his enduring success as an artist.
The two exhibitions at Friends of Historic Kingston and the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art offer viewers a unique opportunity to become acquainted with McEntee’s talent and gain a greater understanding of his significance to the Hudson River School movement.
Jervis McEntee: Kingston’s Artist of the Hudson River School
Friends of Historic Kingston Gallery, New York
Through October, 11
Jervis McEntee: Painter-Poet of the Hudson River School
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York at New Paltz, New York
August 26–December 13, 2015