WAM Featured Artist of the Week: Sanford Gifford

Sanford Gifford (July 10, 1823 – August 29, 1880) was an American landscape painter and one of the leading artists of the Hudson River School. His landscape paintings are most well known for their emphasis on light and soft atmospheric effects. Additionally, Gifford was regarded as a practitioner of Luminism, an offshoot style associated with the Hudson River School.

Gifford was the son of an iron foundry owner and grew up in Hudson, NY until he attended Brown University for college. However, he soon left Brown upon the start of his curriculum in the mid 1840’s to pursue art studies in New York City. By 1847 he was regarded as a skilled painter and showed his first landscape at the National Academy of Design in New York.  In 1851, Gifford was elected an associate and in 1854 was declared an academician.

Gifford’s Travels

Similar to other Hudson River school artists, Gifford traveled often to find scenic landscapes to paint. Not only did he explore New England and upstate New York, he traveled abroad to Europe.

His first excursion to Europe was from 1855-1857 where he traveled with Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge; two other Hudson River School artists. On his travels he sketched subjects for future paintings.

After he returned from Europe, he served in the Union Army in the Seventh Regiment due to the Civil War. Thus, many of his canvases belonged to New York City’s Seventh Regiment and the Union Leaguer Club of New York. These canvases are representations of the nation’s troubling historical time.

On his following journey in 1868, he traveled with Jervis McEntee and his wife across Europe. But then in 1869, he left the McEntees behind and traveled to the Middle East including Egypt. During the summer of 1870, Gifford explored the Rocky Mountains in the Western United States accompanied by Hudson River School artists, Worthington Whittredge and John Kensett.

Chief Pictures

Gifford’s studio was located in New York City where the creation of the majority of his landscape “chief pictures” took place.

Hs “chief pictures” are characterized by a hazy atmosphere including a sift sunlight, In addition, the paintings encompassed a large body of water in the foreground or distance where the landscape would be subtly reflected.

Some examples of his work are below:

Gifford’s Legacy

Following Gifford’s death on August 29, 1880 in New York City, The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated his life that Fall season with a tribute exhibit including over 160 of his paintings. There was also a catalog of Gifford’s work published soon after his death which showcased over 700 of his paintings.

Furthermore, between 1955-1973, Gifford’s heirs donated the artist’s collection of letters and personal essays to the archives of American Art. The letters have served for research purposes and are now an integral piece in the Smithsonian Institution. In 2007, the papers were digitally scanned and made available for researchers.

For more information about Sanford Gifford, please visit: http://www.sanfordrobinsongifford.org/biography.html