Sanford Robinson Gifford

Sanford Robinson Gifford

As a second-generation member of the Hudson River School, Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880) separated himself from his contemporaries with a distinctly luminist style. Born in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, Gifford’s childhood was set in upstate New York, where the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains created the picturesque backdrop of his childhood. When he was twenty-one years old, Gifford moved to New York City to pursue art as a professional career; he learned the art of portraiture under British watercolorist Johns Rubens Smith, enrolled in drawing classes at the National Academy of Design, and studied the human figure while studying anatomy at the Crosby Street Medical College.

In 1846, Gifford realized his artistic path led in the direction of landscape painting while on a sketching trip in the Catskills and Berkshires, and mountainous scenery drew the artist back every summer for the next nine years. The National Academy rewarded his efforts at landscape painting in 1851 with Associate membership, and again three years later, when he was elected full Academician. While studying abroad in Europe, Gifford had his first encounter with the atmospheric perspective of J.M.W. Turner while visiting London’s National gallery. The culmination of his European tour can be marked by his largest, and most famous work Lake Nemi (1856–57; Toledo Museum of Art), which demonstrated his mastery of atmospheric effect and radiant light.

The spring of 1857 was spent sketching with the likes of Albert Bierstadt and T. Worthington Whittredge, but Gifford returned stateside that same summer. He established a studio in New York City, where he continued to produce work for the next twenty-three years. During the Civil War, Gifford was able to remain in the city and paint while serving in New York’s Seventh Regiment of the National Guard. The effects of tragedy tainted Gifford’s professional success during the war: His brother Charles committed suicide in 1861, and his brother Edward died two years later.

The last decade of Gifford’s life was filled with trips throughout the American northeast and Canada, where he continued to explore and produce work. Gifford married Mary Cecilia Canfield in 1877, but their union ended only three years later, when the artist passed away in New York City from respiratory complications. With a clear luminist influence, the majestic landscapes of Sanford Robinson Gifford affirm his title as a second-generation master of the Hudson River School.