Sanford Robinson Gifford 1823-1880
- Sanford Robinson Gifford
- Long Branch Beach
- signed S.R. Gifford and dated 1867, l.r.
- oil on canvas
Estate of W.W. Ilypha
Dr. Allan Roos and Mrs. B. Matthieu Roos
Whitney Museum, New York (gift from the above; sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 1998, lot 104, illustrated in color)
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1998
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 1998
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, October 1998-February 1999 (on loan)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Seascape and the American Imagination, June-September 1975, no. 46, illustrated p. 97
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, October 2003-June 2004, no. 45, pp. 188-189, illustrated in color
A Memorial Catalogue of the Paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford, N.A., with a biographical and critical essay by Prof. John F. Weir, of the Yale School of Fine Arts, New York, 1881, reprinted 1974, no. 414
Ila Weiss, Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), New York, 1977, no. VII K 4, illustrated
Ila Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford Robinson Gifford, Newark, Delaware, 1987, pp. 111, 263, illustrated
Of all the Hudson River School artists, Sanford Gifford was one of the few who was actually native to the Hudson River Valley. Born in Greenfield, Saratoga County, New York, Gifford's family was fairly well off, unlike most of his peers; his father was a joint owner of a highly successful iron foundry. Gifford attended Brown University for two years before deciding to become an artist. Unlike Church, Gifford never studied with Thomas Cole, and unlike Albert Bierstadt, he never attended one of the great art academies of Europe. Rather, he studied in New York with drawing master John Rubens Smith, and attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design, where he worked from plaster casts.
Gifford's earliest efforts focused on portraiture, but by the mid 1840s, his attention turned to landscapes. Reflecting on this time he wrote in a letter to O.B. Frothingham on November 6, 1874: "During the summer of 1846 I made several pedestrian tours in the Catskill Mts., and the Berkshire Hills, and made a good many sketches from nature. These studies, together with the great admiration I felt for the works of Cole, developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape artist's life, I was unable to return to portrait painting. From this time my direction in art was determined."
Cole's death in 1848 was followed by a large retrospective exhibition of his work at the American Art-Union. Though it is not known if Gifford attended the exhibition, it is likely that he did; indeed many of his early paintings recall Cole's work, particularly his choice of the Catskill Mountains as a subject. Gifford's work, however, was more fundamentally rooted in and inspired by his direct observations from nature than Cole's often literary or historical scenes. Gifford generally made small, quick pencil sketches to record his immediate impressions and these, along with his small oil studies, served as a point of departure for his larger studio compositions.
Long Branch Beach combines the fresh eloquence of a sketch from nature with the evocative subtlety and technical assurance of the finest studio painting. Executed in 1867, when he spent the summer on the New Jersey coast, Gifford completed the work during a period in which he had begun to move away from the prototypical landscapes of the Hudson River School, and focus his efforts on the tranquil and luminous views of river and coastal scenery.
In the exhibition catalogue, Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, Franklin Kelly writes: "It is not known why Gifford chose to visit Long Branch and to depict it in several works. The younger Winslow Homer went there two years later, perhaps on the suggestion of his employer, Harper's Weekly, which published two wood engravings by him of Long Branch subjects. In Homer's prints, as in the one oil known to have resulted from the experience (Long Branch, New Jersey, 1869, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), figures are featured prominently. Homer seems to have been emphasizing one of the most remarked-upon aspects of Long Branch's social makeup – namely its democratic character: 'Representatives of all classes are to be met, heavy merchants, railroad magnates, distinguished soldiers, editors, musicians, politicians and divines, and all are on an easy level of temporary equality,' wrote one observer in 1868 ("The Watering Places. Long Branch," The New York Evening Post, July 28, 1868). If Gifford was similarly interested in the details of American modern life, his painting hardly suggests it. Instead of the elegantly dressed men and women who promenade so prominently in Homer's images, the figures in Gifford's painting are far off in the middle distance, making it difficult to distinguish them as anything more than individuals, let alone to determine their social class" (Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, 2003, pp. 188-189).
Unlike Homer's figures, Gifford's appear to be fishermen working on their nets, the angular huts which recall Homer's bathhouses may be icehouses – places for the fishermen to temporarily store their catch. Gifford's extremely technical composition makes it clear, however, that the men and their occupation are secondary to his interest in the shoreline. He creates a deep sense of receding space under a vast expanse of sky, using every detail and component of the scene to create perfect linear perspective and recession toward a single vanishing point.
Gifford painted several views of the New Jersey coast that summer, including two similar canvasses, a larger version of this work (Long Branch Beach, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University), and Sunrise on the Sea-Shore (unlocated), which is listed as one of Gifford's "chief pictures." The latter is described in Henry Tuckerman's 1867 Book of the Artists as "masterly, depicting only sea and sky as they appear at sunrise from the low shores of New Jersey at Long Branch, with no accessories – bare, solitary, base, elemental nature – with such truth in wave and air, in strand and horizon, in light and perspective as to captivate the eye, as the long sea-shore itself does in its sublime reality.'"