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Robert Swain Gifford

 (1840 - 1905)
Robert Swain Gifford was active/lived in New York, Massachusetts.  Robert Gifford is known for etching, landscape and marine painting, Orientalism.

Robert Swain Gifford

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Robert Swain Gifford
One of America's prominent landscape and marine painters as well as teachers in the late 19th century, Robert Swain Gifford worked primarily in New York City with travels to many other locations. He was also one of the early artists into Alaska, going there in 1899 as a commissioned landscape painter for the Harriman Expedition, which traveled up the coast of Alaska as far as Plover Bay in Siberia.

He was born on a small island called Nonamesset, which adjoins Naushon in the chain of Elizabeth Islands off the coast of southeastern Massachusetts. When Gifford was two years old, his family moved to Fairhaven where his father was employed as a boatman and fisherman.

Two famous New Bedford artists, Albert Van Beest and William Bradford, worked on the Fairhaven waterfront, and as a teen-ager, Gifford had the good fortune to become the friend and student of Van Beest, whom he took on occasional sketching trips in his father's boat. Gifford followed Van Beest to New York and stayed with him there for a short time.

Gifford then returned to New Bedford, Connecticut in the late 1850s, where he lived with his friend the sculptor, Walton Ricketson, who, in turn, introduced him to the Adirondack Mountains, providing subjects for many paintings, and to Grand Manan Island, subject for more paintings.

In 1864 Gifford's career began when he opened a studio in Boston, where his early works were mainly marine paintings. In 1865, he moved to New York City and spent the winter painting in Samuel Coleman's studio in the Dodsworth Building. He left the city for the summer and returned to New Bedford and the area islands to make sketches for work to be done the next winter in his studio.

During the 1860s he traveled extensively in search of interesting landscapes, and the western United States became a favorite painting area, especially California and Oregon.

Gifford was a founding member of the American Society of Painters in Watercolors, and in 1867, was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design.

He also supported himself by doing book illustrations for three articles in Picturesque America, a forty-eight-part serial edited by William Cullen Bryant and published by D. Appleton & Company in 1872.

In August 1870 Gifford traveled with his friend Louis Comfort Tiffany to Europe and Africa. This trip offered new subjects for Gifford's work; Egypt in particular was one of his favorite themes, and he became well known for his oriental life scenes.

In 1873 he married Francis Eliot, the daughter of Thomas Dawes Eliot, a lawyer and congressman from New Bedford. The next year they went to Europe and eventually their travels led them to North Africa. They enjoyed this region very much and both painted, recorded local customs, and collected local artifacts.

In 1875 the Giffords returned to New York and joined the mainstream of American artists. Gifford won a metal of honor at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and in 1876 and was one of the founders of the American Art Association. He became one of the first artists in the country to employ etching as a technique and he helped establish the New York Etching Club. He also became a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers of London.

In October, 1877, Gifford accepted a position as a teacher of painting in the Cooper Union schools, where he taught from 1877 to 1896, eventually becoming head of the Woman's Art School in 1896 and then director of all the art schools from 1903 until his death.

He was appointed a member of the Advisory Committee on Fine Arts of the state of New York for the World's Columbian Exposition and was named a judge on the awards committee of the St. Louis World's Fair.

In 1886, Gifford built for his family a large home in Nonquitt in South Dartmouth. From then on the Giffords spent their summers at Nonquitt and their winters in New York. Gifford was a fine sailor who designed his own boats and enjoyed challenging his friends to match races on Buzzards Bay.

Gifford died at his home in New York after a brief illness at the age of sixty-five.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Robert Swain Gifford
Born on the island of Naushon in Massachusetts on Dec. 23, 1840. Gifford had a studio in Boston until 1866 and after that time was based in NYC. He traveled extensively throughout the West and was in California in 1869 as an illustrator for Wm Bryant's Picturesque America. He sketched along the coast of California and inland at the quicksilver mines near San Jose. He also traveled to Europe, Egypt, and Algiers in search of subject matter. Gifford died in NYC on Jan. 15, 1905. Member: NA; NAC; American WC Society. Exh: NAD, 1864; Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1874; San Francisco Art Association, 1875, 1881. In: CGA.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Artists of the American West (Samuels); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Art News, 1-21-1905 & NY Times, 1-16-1905 (obits); American Art Review, Aug. 2003.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.
Robert Swain Gifford (American, 1840-1905):

Gifford was born on the Island of Naushon (joining Nonamesset in the Elizabeth Islands), off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts on December 23, 1840, the son of William Tillinghast Gifford and Annie Eldridge.

He studied with Dutch-American marine painter Albert VanBeest, Benjamin Russell and William Bradford in New Bedford, ca. 1856-59. He moved to Boston in 1864 and to NYC in 1866.

Gifford was an Associate (1867) and an Academician (1878) of the National Academy of Design; American Society of Painters in Watercolor; New York Etchers Club (founding member); The Tile Club; Society of London Painters; Society of American Artists (founding member, 1877); American Water Color Society; National Arts Club; American Art Galleries; Society of Landscape Painters (1899); Royal Society of Painters & Etchers, London, England.

Awards include 1876 Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia (gold); 1901 Pan-American Exposition (silver); 1902 Charleston Exposition (gold); Prize Fund Exhibition, American Art Association (1885).

Illustrator: Picturesque America, (1872); "Harriman Alaska Expedition," (1869).

Art Instructor & Director at the Cooper Union Art School, NYC (1866-1896). Advisory Committee on F.A., N.Y. World's Columbian Exposition.

His work is represented in the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Academy of Design; National Arts Club; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Millicent Library, Fairhaven; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; New Bedford Free Public Library; Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, MA.

Married to Frances Eliot, 1873. He died in New York City January 15, 1905 and he is buried in Rural Cemetery, New Bedford, MA.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery
ROBERT S. GIFFORD (1840-1905)

Born on Naushon Island, Massachusetts, Robert Gifford first studied painting in New Bedford with the watercolorist Benjamin Russell and the Dutch marine painter Albert Van Beest. In 1864, he moved to Boston, opened his own studio, and first exhibited at the National Academy of Design, New York. He relocated to New York in 1866 where he maintained a residence, but traveled and painted in various locations, including Oregon, California, South Carolina, New England, Europe, and North Africa.

Establishing a specialty in marine scenes, as in a sketch of Fort Sumter, he also commonly exhibited paintings depicting his peripatetic and far-reaching travels. He was made an associate of the National Academy in 1867 and elevated to academician the following year.  He was a member of various art organizations, including the American Water Color Society, the Tile Club, the National Arts Club, and the Society of London Painters.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

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About  Robert Swain Gifford

Born:  1840 - Nonamesset, Massachusetts
Died:   1905 - New York City
Known for:  etching, landscape and marine painting, Orientalism

Essays referring to
Robert Swain Gifford