John Frederick Kensett
(1816 - 1872)
John Frederick Kensett was active/lived in New York, Connecticut. John Kensett is known for landscape and coastal scene painting, engravings.
John Frederick Kensett
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Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is from The New York Times, July 4, 2001, www.nytimes.com/2001/07/04/nyregion/04HUDS.html
Biography from the Archives of askART
The Final Strokes Are Kensett's Best
By GRACE GLUECK
With Eatons Neck, Long Island, the Luminist landscape painter John
Frederick Kensett did not have far to go for subject matter. In the
late 1860's he bought land and built a studio on an island near Darien,
Conn., off the shore of Long Island Sound. And in the summer of 1872,
he painted about 40 views, including many of the points along the Sound
and the Connecticut shore. As a group, they are known as the "Last
Summer's Work," since he died in December of that year at age 56.
Of them, Eatons Neck is the best known and the most
haunting. It is a masterly distillation in which the
curving shoreline, water and sky are pared into an almost
abstract composition, bathed in the serene, spiritual light
by the small band of Hudson River School painters known today as the
Luminists. Still, the painting's dearth of detail, its stark
unembellished forms pose the question of whether it was really
finished. The question is of particular interest today, because
contemporary taste decrees that an uncompleted work gives more insight
into the artist's mind and way of working.
Finished or not, there is strength in the emptiness and eloquent silence of Eatons
Neck. Its spare composition and low-key, closely related colors seem
to presage the work of 20th-century American painters like Mark Rothko
and Barnett Newman.
Kensett had not always made the spiritual quality of light the central
theme of his paintings. Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1816,
he was trained in his father's engraving shop and worked for
nearly a decade at that trade before taking off for a long stay
in Europe. There he traveled in several countries,
sketching and studying the Old Masters. In Paris, with his fellow
American painter and engraver John W. Casilear, he became a wheel
in the expatriate
American artists' colony.
Back home by 1847, he made sketching tours with Casilear and Casilear's
painting mentor, the Hudson River stalwart Asher B. Durand, and
began exhibiting at the National Academy. His approach to
landscape then was that of the picturesque Hudson River School,
emphasizing foliage, rock ledges and distant peaks, as in The White Mountains Mt. Washington of 1851.
Influenced by the French painter Claude Lorrain, the painting was the
best-known image of that region to be produced in the 1850's. It offers
a view of the majestic Mount Washington range in all its grandeur from
North Conway, N.H., a distance of 15 miles. With its warm golden light
and the inclusion of well-tended houses and sheep in the foreground,
the painting helped tame the reputation of an area fostered by earlier
painters as a
Although Kensett was admired in the 1850's for idyllic landscapes like
this, by the 1860's he had turned to the transcendental style for which
he is best regarded today. His compositions became simplified, and his
palette more muted, as he cultivated spiritual serenity.
was a frequent traveler in Europe and the western United States from
1854 to 1870. He was a trustee of the Century Association in New
took an important role in organizing an art exhibition during the Civil
War to raise money for medical supplies, and became a founding trustee
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was there that the "Last Summer's
Work" paintings were donated after Kensett's death.
Son of an English immigrant engraver, John Kensett lacked enthusiasm
for that medium and became one of the most accomplished painters of the
second generation of Hudson River School painters. His reputation is
for Luminism, careful depiction of light, weather, and atmosphere as
they affect color and texture of natural forms. He was particularly
influenced by the painting of Asher Durand in that he focused on
realism and detail rather than the highly dramatic views associated
with Thomas Cole. Going to the western United States in the mid 1850s
and the 1860s, he was the first of the Hudson River School painters to
explore and paint the West.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Kensett was born and raised in
Cheshire, Connecticut, and learned his engraving from his father,
Thomas Kensett with whom he worked in New Haven, Connecticut until
1829. He continued working until 1840 as an engraver of labels,
banknotes and maps and was employed part of that time by the American
Bank Note Company in New York City. There he met Thomas Rossiter, John
Casilear, and other artists who urged him to pursue painting. In 1840,
he and Rossiter, Asher Durand, and Casilear went to Europe where
Kensett stayed for seven years and supported himself by doing engraving
but became accomplished in landscape painting.
canvases of Italian landscapes back to New York, he had a reputation for
skillful painting that preceded him. When he returned to New York City in
1847, he was an "instant success" and very sought after by collectors.
Two of his Italian landscapes had already been purchased by the
American Art Union. By 1849, he was a full member of the National
Academy of Design and was generally popular among his peers. His studio
was a gathering place with travelers stopping by to see his canvases
and to identify "precise locations in the Catskills or Newport or New
England in the oil sketches and drawings that covered his walls."
(Zellman 170). For the women, he was a popular bachelor, "romantic
looking with high forehead and sensitive expression." (Samuels 262)
was also sought after by many organizations. Among his activities were
serving on the committee to oversee the decoration of the United States
Capitol in Washington DC, and becoming one of the founders of the
Metropolitan Museum in New York.
An inveterate traveler, Kensett
spent summers on painting excursions away from New York City. One of
these trips was a special painting excursion with fifteen other artists
sponsored by the B & O Railroad from Baltimore, Maryland to
Wheeling, West Virginia. Unlike many of the Hudson River painters,
Kensett painted coastal views, a subject he began pursuing in the
1850s. It was a subject that lent itself to his skill in depicting
heightened light, color and reflection. Beginning 1854, he traveled in
the West, first going up the Mississippi River and then the Missouri
River in 1857, to Colorado with Worthington Whittredge in 1866, and in
1870 back to Colorado with Whittredge and Sanford Gifford.
He died two years later attempting to rescue the drowning wife of fellow artist Vincent Colyer.
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
John Cuthbert, Early Art and Artists in West Virginia
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
of the leading Hudson River School artists, John F. Kensett was
originally from Cheshire, Connecticut. He began his artistic
career as a bank note engraver in the roaring financial market of the
1830's. When the "Wild Cat Era" (named after one of the colorful images
engraved on the paper currency of a short-lived bank) ended with the
Panic of 1837, Kensett went abroad to study painting in England and
France. For almost ten years he studied the works of the Old Masters
along with Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole's best friend. Durand's
influence was considerable as Kensett's oils are noted for their sense
of calm, as opposed to the almost violently dramatic feel of Cole's signature works.
Biography from the Archives of askART
By the time Kensett returned to the United Sates
in 1848, he emerged as a full-blown artist, and quickly became one of
the pillars of the New York art world. His style would evolve from the
pastoral Hudson River School style into what is known as Luminism, focused on light and atmosphere, instead of
painting specific topographical locations.
Kensett more than
any of the other landscape painters of that era pursued Luminism, which was a tangent towards abstraction. When he
died in 1872, after rescuing a neighbors wife from drowning in Long
Island Sound, his studio was discovered to contain a series of not
quite finished paintings, since titled Last Summer's Work. These works
stunned the New York art world and were regarded as absolute works of
genius. In fact, they were so well regarded that the infant Metropolitan
Museum of Art, an institution Kensett and his fellow Union League Club
members founded, made a group of 39 landscapes of Lake George, and Long
Island Sound the nucleus of its collection.
Alexander Boyle, who
was featured on the television show "America's First River, Bill Moyers
on the Hudson. Boyle worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the
Assistant Director of a film, "American Paradise, the World of the
Hudson River School" and from 1988 to 2001 was Vice-President of Godel
& Co. Fine Art in New York where he bought, sold and wrote about
the artists of the Hudson River School, American marine painting, and
His works can be found at the following:
Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries
Newport Art Museum:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Oil painting, "Newport, R.I." (ca. 1870) (acc.# 989.005.1)
Newport Historical Society:
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Oil painting [untitled]--landscape, Fort Dumpling, Jamestown (ca. 1855-1865) (acc.# 42.3)
ACCESS RESTRICTED. APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
1. Oil painting, landscape, "Genesee River" (1857) (acc.# 13.797)
2. Oil painting, "Lake George, Tongue Mountain" (ca. 1869) (acc.# 20.029)
3. Charcoal/chalk/watercolor, "The Marriage at Cana, after Paolo Veronese" (1857) (acc.# 67.063)
4. Oil painting, board mounted on canvas, "Maples and Birches in October" (19th c.)(acc.# 1992.026)
5. Oil painting on canvas, "Newport, Rhode Island" (acc.# EL004.80)
Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman
Biography from Spanierman Gallery
John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)
John F. Kensett is considered one of America's most important 19th-century landscape painters. Deeply influenced by the aims and technique of Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole, Kensett is viewed as an heir to Cole in his leadership of the Hudson River traditon. Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut on March 2, 1816, the son of Thomas Kensett, an engraver, and Elizabeth Daggett. By age twelve, he was working in his family's engraving and printing business in New Haven. At some point, possibly in 1829 when he was thirteen years of age, he went to New York to work for Peter Maverick, then America's leading engraver. In Maverick's shop Kensett met John W. Casilear, five years his senior, who would also become a painter and who would remain Kensett's lifelong friend.
Following his father's death, Kensett returned to New Haven to work for his uncle in the family firm, then named Daggett and Ely. Kensett was employed engraving business cards, brass door plates, and maps--all extremely time-consuming and tedious work. Casilear wrote often, encouraging his friend to paint and praising his talent, but Kensett could not afford the art instruction he needed. In 1837, he went to work as a banknote engraver for Harr, Packard, Cushman & Co. of Albany, New York. The following year, he submitted a painting to the National Academy of Design--a painting that not only was chosen for exhibition, but also was favorably critiqued.
In early 1840, having set aside money for travel, Kensett returned to New York City to prepare to go to Europe. On June 1, he set sail for London with Asher B. Durand and his friends Casilear and Thomas Rossiter, a young painter whom Kensett had met in New Haven. Arriving in London, Kensett traveled on to Hampton Court to meet his English relatives, his paternal grandmother and uncle. He visited London's art galleries and painted and sketched in the nearby countryside. Before the summer was over, he and Rossiter had settled in Paris. He secured a contract to provide engravings for a Philadelphia firm as his means of livelihood and devoted the rest of his time to improving his draftsmanship. He took classes at the Ecole Préparation des Beaux-Arts and studied the drawing collections in the Louvre.
On visits to England made in 1841 and 1843, Kensett sketched avidly, filling notebooks with views made in the vicinity of Richmond, Hampton Court, and Windsor Castle, and setting a pattern of sketching in the countryside that he would follow every summer for the rest of his life. In the British galleries, he studied the works of the Dutch Old Masters and John Constable and began to use these as models for his own paintings.
From October 1845 through the spring of 1847, Kensett lived in Rome. He attended classes where he sketched from live models, and he sketched in the countryside outside Rome and around Florence, Perugia, and Venice, places he visited with his artist friends. He fulfilled commissions for paintings from Americans in Italy, and by 1847 his career was well established.
In November 1847, Kensett returned to the United States to open a studio in New York City. The five paintings he exhibited at the National Academy of Design the following spring were pronounced by one critic to be of higher quality than work exhibited either by Durand or Frederic Edwin Church. Kensett's participation in this exhibition resulted in his election as an associate of the National Academy. One year later, in May 1849, he was made an aåcademician.
Kensett's entree into artistic circles in New York and his acceptance into high society were won almost instantaneously. He was called upon to fill many important roles in the art world. He was a founder and president of the Artists' Fund Society, an organization dedicated to the support of indigent artists, their widows, and orphans. He was chairman of the Art Committee of the Sanitary Fair, which opened in New York in 1864, and he was a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the virtual height of this exemplary career, Kensett suffered a fatal heart attack in his New York studio on December 14, 1872.
Paintings by Kensett are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution, and The White House Collection, all in Washington, D. C.; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; and the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri.
A major figure in the American luminist tradition and one of the most renowned painters of the Civil War era, John Frederick Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1816. He was the son of Thomas Kensett, a British immigrant engraver, and it was in his father's New Haven firm that Kensett first learned to draw.
Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
After mastering the rudiments of the graphic arts, he worked as an engraver in print shops in New Haven, Albany, and New York throughout the 1830's. During this period, he began to paint on his own, encouraged by a friend and fellow artist, John W. Casilear. In 1838, he made his first submission, a landscape, to the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design.
Desirous of continuing his training, Kensett traveled to Europe in 1840. For the next seven years, often in the company of artists such as Casilear and Asher B. Durand, he painted and sketched in France, England, Italy, and Switzerland. In 1846, he sent several of his Italian landscapes back to New York, the American Art-Union purchasing two of them.
Returning to New York in 1847, Kensett's career soon began to flourish. He was elected an Associate member of the National Academy in 1848 and reached full Academician status only a year later. It was around this time that he began to make summer sketching trips to the Catskills, the White Mountains, and Adirondacks and to the Newport coast, a practice that he would continue throughout his life. Although he later made several journeys to the American West and Europe, he was most drawn to the mountains, lakes, woods, and beaches of the American Northeast.
Kensett's stylistic approach of the 1850's had its basis in the classical, topographically-detailed landscapes of the first generation Hudson River School. However, during the 1860's, he began to take a greater interest in the effects of light, air and atmosphere. He integrated these concerns into quiet, well-structured land and seascapes characterized by tight brushwork and a subdued palette yet endowed with a unique poetic lyricism -- traits that later led one critic to refer to him as "the Bryant of our painters."
This venue, echoed in the work of Kensett's contemporaries -- Martin Johnson Heade, Sanford Gifford, and Fitz Hugh Lane -- has since been identified as "luminism." Kensett's landscape subjects ranged from the quiet, woodland interiors of New York and New England to the long, uninhabited shorelines of the Atlantic seaboard, making him the first member of the second generation Hudson River School painters to depict the seashore.
One year prior to his death, he completed an important series of thirty-eight paintings of Long Island Sound which are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.
A prolific and popular artist, Kensett was also an active participant in the local and national art life of his day. In 1859, he was appointed to the U.S. Capitol Art Commission. Four years later he helped organize the Sanitary Fair exhibition in support of the Union Troops. He also established the Artists Fund Society (1865) and in 1870 was a founding member of the Metropolitan Museum.
John Frederick Kensett died in his New York studio in 1872.
John Frederick Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, on March 22, 1816. The son of an engraver/publisher, he worked in various shops learning engraving during the 1830s. During these years, he met and corresponded with artist John W. Cassilear, who encouraged him to become a painter.(1)
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Beginning in 1840, he and Cassilear traveled and sketched for seven years in Europe, where Kensett met J.M.W. Turner and Asher B. Durand. He worked extensively in Paris making copies of the atmospheric landscape paintings by French Baroque artist Claude Lorrain. He became quite successful after returning to the United States and was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1848.
In the early 1850s, Kensett painted throughout New England before taking his second trip abroad to paint in the British Isles. In 1858, he took a train excurs ion to make sketches through the Midwest with Durand and Sanford Gifford. After another trip to Europe, he made excursions down the Mississippi River and to Colorado.
He established the Artist's Fund Society in 1865 and was a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870. In 1872, he contracted pneumonia while attempting to save the drowning wife of the painter Vincent Colyer at Darien, Connecticut. Kensett never really recovered and died of heart failure at his New York studio on December 14 of 1872.(2)
Kensett was considered a second-generation Hudson River School painter. He was influenced by the poetry of William Wordsworth as he contemplated the wonder, majesty and sublime power of nature. Inspired by the words of William Cullen Bryant, he sensed the embodiment of the divine spirit in trees, flowers, meadows and mountains. His early training as an engraver led to his later anchoring his paintings with subtle gradations of gray that were the hallmark of an engraver's method for indicating distances. Instead of painting a bright sky and midday sun, as did his Hudson River School predecessors, he preferred to express nature through a calm, medium light where a broad range of subtle tonalities could be experienced.
1. John Paul Driscoll. John Frederick Kensett: Drawings (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University, 1978)
2. Other references include Ellen Johnson, "Kensett Revisited", The Art Quarterly, Vol. XX, No. 2, 1967, pages 71-92; Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Last Summer's Work. (Descriptive catalogue of 38 paintings given to the MMA by Thomas Kensett). (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1874); Stephen S. Prokopoff, James K. Kettleworth and Joan C. Siegfriend, John Frederick Kensett: A Retrospective (Saratoga Springs, NY: Hathorn Gallery, Skidmore College, 1967); and Janice Simon, Images of Contentment: John Frederick Kensett and the Connecticut Shore (Waterbury, VT: Mattatuck Museum, 2001); and John Driscoll and John K. Howat, John Frederick Kensett: An American Master (New York: Norton & Company with the Worcester Art Museum, 1985).
2. John K. Howat, John Frederick Kensett 1816-1872. (New York: American Federation of the Arts, 1968), n.p.
Submitted by the Staff of the Columbus Museum, Georgia
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