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 Jasper Francis Cropsey  (1823 - 1900)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: Autumnal landscape and allegorical painting, botanics

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BIOGRAPHY for Jasper Cropsey
Facts/Data
Birth
1823 (Staten Island, New York)
 
Death
1900 (Hastings-on-Hudson, New York)

Lived/Active
New York


Portrait by Edward L. Mooney 1847


Often Known For
Autumnal landscape and allegorical painting, botanics

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Hudson River School Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is excerpted from The New York Times, May 27, 2001, "Vistas Revisited: Landscapes in Oil and Life" By Kirk Johnson

WARWICK, N.Y. Sometimes a view can change a life.  A person climbs a hill,  gazes out at the landscape, and is never quite the same.  A vista has become a vision.

It happened about 150 years ago to a landscape painter named Jasper Francis Cropsey, then a rising star of the Hudson River School of art, who wandered one day onto a hilltop that the Indians called Noonantum, just south of the Catskills. It happened again in the 1930's, when a young Polish immigrant named John Woloszczak hiked up to the abandoned ruins of the Cropsey homestead and stood in the spot though he didn't know it at the time where the artist had painted a view of "Mounts Adam and Eve," shimmering in the distance across Warwick Valley.

One was a shy, socially awkward man who became famous for his ability to depict the seasons.  The other studied for the priesthood and painted houses for a living. What unites them and their families across time and space is a singular, transcendent view, and the rocky hilltop that came to embody it. "Family follows family," said Katherine Woloszczak (pronounced WOL-a-check), describing the process that led to her family's establishment here over the last half century.

Mrs. Woloszczak, who is 86, said the hill and the view that inspired her husband, John, have been like an anchor holding everything and everyone together.  Mr. Woloszczak died three years ago at age 88, but four of their grandchildren are now preparing to build homes behind hers, starting this summer, and it's their presence, she said, that keeps her alive.  "I think I would be dead, too, a long time, without family," she said.

A painting is ultimately a closed world, bound by its frame a self-contained story that begins and ends.  But the tale of Noonantum Hill part of the necklace of vales and promontories that came to define the Hudson River School suggests that real-world beginnings and ends are not so neat.

What happened here more than a century ago a reaction of light and perspective that artists like Cropsey believed was special on this continent is still very much unfolding.

For the Cropsey and the Woloszczak families, the link was provided by an old woman named Mrs. MacPherson.  No one seems to remember her first name; only that she was tiny and ancient and arrived one day in the 1950's, when the Woloszczaks had just moved the 50 or so miles from Manhattan to Warwick.  Did they know who had once lived on this hilltop, she asked them?  Did they know whose home was up there moldering in those trees?  They didn't, and she told them. And then she told them who Cropsey was because they had never heard of him, either, said John Woloszczak Jr., John and Katherine's youngest son.

Mrs. MacPherson said she had grown up playing with Cropsey's daughters in the 1870's.  Her father had been a tanner who had come to the Cropsey place to collect his pelts or empty his traps, and she told the Woloszczaks her memories as a child of being invited into the Cropsey house for cookies.

She gave them a grainy black-and-white family photograph taken in the 1880's and showed them art-book images of the view of "Mounts Adam and Eve" their view, as the Woloszczaks thought of it, made famous before any of them were born.

And so what had simply been "the old mansion," as the Woloszczaks had called it until then, gradually became something more. They began collecting books about Cropsey.  Photographs and architectural plans of the house, which the artist designed himself and called Aladdin, began to pile up, and that allowed the children to trace on the forest floor the places where specific rooms had been, like Cropsey's studio.

The odd trees that the family had noticed all over their hill oak and pine and maple trees with leaves as big as dinner plates that don't normally grow here were Cropsey's trees, the family realized.  And so they became special, too. The ruins and their association with the life of this one artist became part of the identity of the property, and the Woloszczak family history became linked with a kind of artistic resonance that hung over everything.

In search of society's values, The Hudson River School became part of the national consciousness in the early-to mid-1800's through its single-minded belief that places like Noonantum were important.  On the borderlands between wilderness and civilization, a society's values were to be found, the painters said, and they took America with them on their search.  From the Adirondack Mountains to Long Island Sound, they brought back a world that was being transformed even as they captured it by industry and agriculture, by the railroads and, as many people in those days put it, by the march of progress.

There are, of course, things of value in this world beyond the visual pyrotechnics of a landscape, and perhaps that is the ultimate thread that ties together the Cropsey and Woloszczak stories.  No matter how much the view inspired them, what brought the artist and the immigrant to this hill was love.  In that respect, they were kindred spirits. Both men married New Jersey women, and it was through their wives that they first came to these woods. Cropsey's wife, born Maria Cooley, grew up around Greenwood Lake, N.J., a few miles south of Warwick, and he first came to the area and painted deliriously happy scenes of her family's home on the lake in the 1840's.

John Woloszczak came because his wife's sisters, who had grown up on a farm in East Brunswick, N.J., had found jobs during the Depression in a Warwick resort hotel.

But for Cropsey, the happy days he envisioned at Aladdin were not to be. The completion in 1869 of his 29-room home coincided with a precipitous decline in sales, and the prices of his paintings and those of other artists of the Hudson River School. The carnage of the Civil War, art experts say, had shattered the idea for many people that nature could solve mankind's ills and evils.

The postwar mavericks of art favored looser, more personal styles and looked upon older painters like Cropsey as dinosaurs. Between 1865 his most successful year as a painter, when he sold nine paintings for a total of $9,000 and the 1880's, his fortunes almost collapsed.  In the mid-1880's, he auctioned off 67 paintings, including a dozen by his daughter, Lily, and received only $2,700. The season had truly changed.

In a letter to his wife in early November 1880, while she was in New York City trying to raise money, Cropsey wrote of his troubles paying the bills, and how he had clumsily hammered both thumbs working on the house and could no longer paint.  He was 57, ill and nearly broke. "Will it ever grow better? Will the silver lining ever show itself?" Cropsey wrote. "Will good fortune ever smile on you and me again?" Three years later, the Cropseys sold Aladdin and moved into a smaller house in Hastings-on-Hudson, in Westchester County, where he lived until his death in 1900 at age 77.  Mrs. Cropsey died several years later.

Little remains of the Cropsey home today but for a ragged outline of foundation stones the house burned in a spectacular fire in 1909, after the Cropseys had moved and it had been renamed Barr Castle, but those stones have gradually become the centerpiece of the Woloszczak family circle.

The perspective of "Mounts Adam and Eve," which Cropsey painted over and over from his front yard perhaps as many as a dozen times, though only about half of those are known to exist is still recognizable. A middle school and a high school are now clustered on the valley floor below the hill both recently expanded as the town has grown. And while the farms are mostly gone, a broad swath of trees still nestles the valley, and the mountains beyond look just as he painted them.

Katherine Woloszczak said she often sits before her huge bay window these days, just looking out.  The window dominates much of the northwest side of her little house, as though the window was conceived of first, to frame the scene, and the house added only later for support.  "I think maybe that this was given to us from God," she said.






This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born on Staten Island, New York, Jasper Cropsey became a nationally known luminist landscape painter whose work reflects his interest in architecture and allegorical progression, seasons, etc.  Called "America's painter of autumn", he was especially known for his sunlit-ridden fall landscapes.

Reportedly the peak of his career was the creation of a "nine-foot-long canvas of a New York autumn.  Its brilliant colors stunned many of the English viewers to whom it was presented in London." (Zellman 202)  His painting, Autumn on the Hudson River, was so well received in England that Queen Victoria granted him an audience.

Cropsey had early success, being acclaimed by the press when he was in his twenties.  He was trained in architecture, having been apprenticed to an architect when he was age 15, but he turned to landscape painting, which was then gaining acceptance.  He was an admirer of landscape painter Thomas Cole and used Cole's Roman studio when studying in Italy from 1847-49. Although Cole was deceased by then, Cropsey adopted Cole's colorful palette and romantic treatment of subject matter.

He lived most of his life at Hastings-on-Hudson, overlooking the Hudson River and traveled and painted extensively in the river valley.  However, from 1856 to 1863, he lived in England where the influence of Frederic E. Church replaced Cole.


Source:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
Jasper Francis Cropsey, in the company of Frederic Edwin Church, Asher B. Durand, and John F. Kensett, was one of the most respected painters of the Hudson River School.  At the peak of his career—from the mid-1840s through the 1870s—Cropsey enjoyed fame in both England and the United States for his views of American scenery, particularly his richly colored canvases capturing the glories of the American autumn.

Born on Staten Island, New York, on February 18, 1823, Cropsey trained to be an architect.  At the age of thirteen he made and submitted a scale model of a country house to the annual exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute in New York City.  His model won a medal and brought the youth to the attention of New York architect Joseph Trench.  Cropsey served a five-year apprenticeship with Trench, who encouraged him to embellish his architectural drawings with landscape backgrounds and figures.  To this end, Trench enabled Cropsey to study drawing with the landscape painter Edward Maury.

Although the practice of architecture supported Cropsey throughout the 1840s, it was the rendering of his designs on paper rather than the design process itself that ignited his passion.  His success with the watercolor medium kindled a desire to paint with oils, which Cropsey took up in 1841.  He learned to handle the new medium by copying from existing works of art, which included his own watercolors as well as Dutch paintings and engravings of paintings by Claude Lorrain.

In 1843 he participated for the first time in an exhibition at the National Academy of Design.  He was made an associate of the Academy the following year on the merits of View of Orange County with Greenwood Lake in the Distance. Cropsey had discovered Greenwood Lake in southeastern New York State by 1843.  He opened a studio there and began submitting views of the lake to various exhibitions in New York.  Cropsey’s attachment to the area was an enduring one.  In 1866, he purchased a forty-five-acre tract outside the village of Warwick near Greenwood Lake where he constructed Aladdin, a 29-room Gothic Revival mansion with studio.

Following his marriage in the spring of 1847, Cropsey and his bride, Maria Cooley, embarked upon a two-year European honeymoon.  They spent the summer in England before traveling through Italy with American painters Christopher Pearse Cranch and Thomas Hicks and sculptor William Wetmore Story.  During a lengthy stay in Rome, Cropsey worked out of the former studio of Thomas Cole, the founding father of the Hudson River School.

Upon his return to the United States in the summer of 1849, Cropsey settled down to painting as a full-time occupation.  He shared a studio with Edwin White at 114 White Street in New York City, where he taught and worked up his European sketches into finished oils.  His pupils included the gifted American landscapist David Johnson.  Cropsey made frequent sketching trips to the White Mountains, the Catskill Mountains, Greenwood Lake, and Newport, Rhode Island.  This productive and rewarding period culminated in Cropsey’s rise to academician status in the National Academy in 1851.

In June 1856 the Cropseys again went abroad, this time renting a home and studio in the Kensington section of London. The artist arrived with commissions from American patrons for paintings of castles and abbey ruins, thus he traveled a great deal through the English countryside.  He found, in turn, that his American subjects were just as eagerly desired abroad.  The London printer Gambert and Company commissioned thirty-six views from Cropsey for publication in American Scenery.

During his seven years in England, Cropsey kept company with leading figures in the British art world, including the director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Eastlake, and author John Ruskin, leader of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who influenced a generation of American and British painters through his advocacy of painting natural objects in their natural settings.  While abroad, Cropsey began exhibiting the autumnal scenes that would become his hallmark. His monumental Autumn—On the Hudson River of 1860 (National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.) was lauded by Queen Victoria and the London press, earning Cropsey trans-Atlantic repute as “America’s painter of autumn.”

Shortly after his return to America, Cropsey undertook American Autumn, Starruca Valley, Erie Railroad, a large painting celebrating a prosperous nation newly at peace.  A chromolithograph after the painting was published by Thomas Sinclair of Philadelphia, which immediately put Cropsey’s work within easy reach of a mass market.  He was commissioned by Milton Courtright to paint Valley of Wyoming (1865, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a painting measuring seven feet in width.  The sale of these paintings gave him the money necessary to build Aladdin.

By the 1880s, Cropsey could no longer afford what had become an extravagant lifestyle.  Aladdin was sold by his creditors, and in June 1885 the Cropseys settled in a modest home in the town of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.  Cropsey began painting the Hudson River and the Palisades, the rocky outcroppings on the Hudson’s west bank that are visible from Hastings.  Although his landscape subject matter remained the same, his palette became increasingly high-keyed as a result of his contact with the English Pre-Raphaelites.

Cropsey died at Hastings-on-Hudson on June 22, 1900. His home there has been preserved as a center for the study of Cropsey and his art.

Cropsey was a founding member of the American Water Color Society in 1866.  His other memberships included the Century Club, the Lotos Club, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Artists Aid Society. Major examples of his work are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Peabody Institute, Baltimore; the New-York Historical Society; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.


Biography from Heritage Auctions:
Born on a farm on Staten Island in 1823, Jasper Francis Cropsey suffered recurring stints of poor health as a young boy. While absent from school, he taught himself to draw by sketching architecture and landscapes. At thirteen, he submitted a scale model of a country home to the annual exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute of New York and won a medal for his design, capturing the attention of New York architect Joseph Trench. Cropsey spent the next five years serving as Trench’s apprentice, who encouraged his young protégé to incorporate background detail and even narratives into his architectural drawings, introducing him to landscape painter Edward Maury.

Although his acute draftsmanship insured his reputation and financial success as an architect, it was the act of drafting a blueprint on paper, rather than the physical execution of his design that sparked the young Cropsey’s enthusiasm. His fluency with watercolors prompted him to explore oil as a new medium in 1841, and he familiarized himself with the new method of execution by copying existing artworks, including his own watercolors.

After spending several years in his own studio, submitting works to various exhibitions around New York, Cropsey and his new bride left the country in the summer of 1847 to travel England and Italy with fellow American painters Christopher Pearse Cranch and Thomas Hicks, and sculptor William Wetmore Story. Cropsey even worked out of the former studio of Thomas Cole, the founding father of the Hudson River School while in Rome. You can see evidence of Cole’s influence in some of Cropsey’s landscapes. They did not return to the United States until 1849, at which time Cropsey was ready to make painting a full-time practice. During this prolific period in his career, Cropsey not only produced in high volume, making frequent visits to the White Mountains, the Catskill Mountains, Greenwood Lake, and Newport, Rhode Island, but he also became mentor to his own set of young pupils, which awarded him academician status in the National Academy in 1851.

Leaving the United States again in 1856, the Cropseys settled down in the Kensington district of London, which they called home for the next seven years.Arriving with already commissions from American patrons for paintings of castles and abbey ruins, Cropsey kept himself busy traveling the English countryside. He also completed one of his greatest works, Autumn—On the Hudson River in 1860, which received widespread acclaim and public recognition from both Queen Victoria and the London Press. The masterpiece also earned him international prestige as “America’s painter of autumn.” When he wasn’t painting, he kept company with some of the most influential figures in the British art world, including the director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Eastlake, as well as author and pioneer of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, John Ruskin.

By the 1880s, Cropsey could no longer support the opulent lifestyle he had created for himself, so the couple settled down in a modest home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where he spent the rest of his life painting his backyard overlooking the Palisades until he passed away in 1900.

Biography from Newman Galleries:
Jasper Cropsey was a mid-nineteenth century painter and architect known for his detailed, romantic autumn landscapes. A member of the Hudson River School, he reached his artistic peak in 1860 with a nine-foot-long canvas of a New York autumn landscape. Its brilliant colors stunned many of the English viewers to whom it was presented in London.

Cropsey was born on Staten Island, New York, in 1823. He was trained in mechanical drafting and apprenticed at the age of 15 under architect Joseph Trench. He developed a strong interest in painting and took lessons in watercolors.

In 1841, he began doing landscapes in oil, painting scenes of the White Mountains, the Catskill Mountains, and areas around Greenwood Lake in New Jersey.  In 1942, he left Trench’s office to devote himself to painting, although he continued to work as an architect.

Cropsey went to Europe in 1847, and in 1856 went to England where he stayed for seven years. While there, he painted one of his greatest works, Autumn- On the Hudson River (1860, National Gallery of Art), which received critical raves and rated Cropsey an audience with Queen Victoria.

From then on, Cropsey specialized in fall scenes, earning the nickname “America’s painter of Autumn.” In the later years of his life, Cropsey settled on the Hudson River at Hastings, New York, painting oil and watercolor views of his favored river.

He continued some architectural work throughout his life; among his designs was the Victorian-style Sixth Avenue elevated station in New York City.

Jasper Cropsey died in 1900.  His work is in numerous public collections, including those of Harvard University; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art; and the New York Historical Society.

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