Friday, April 3, 2009

Robert Swain Gifford, "Landscape with Cattle"


Landscape with Cattle
Etching, 1888

Robert Swain Gifford was born in 1840 on Naushon Island, Massachusetts. He studied art with a Dutch artist, Albert Van Beest, in Bedford. In the early 1860s he had studios in New York and Massachusetts. By 1866 he had made New York City his permanent home, although he returned regularly to Massachusetts and other parts of New England to sketch and paint. In 1869 he traveled and sketched extensively in the Western States. In 1870 he began a series of trips to Europe and the Middle East. He was especially taken with the work of the Barbizon artists, especially those whose work he saw on a trip to Marseilles. Peter Bermingham in American Art in the Barbizon Mood, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) notes the change in Gifford’s style as a result of that exposure to the different palettes of some European artists: “...after that his style evolved from an overblown romanticism, stark, simpler compositions, wide spacious vistas, and, most typically, a cold, somber mood drawn from the barren dunes and rugged cedars of the New England coast.”

In 1877 Gifford began teaching at Cooper Union School in New York City. He remained there for thirty years, the last nine years as director. He helped establish the New York Etching Club in 1877 and was a founding member of the American Society of Painters in Watercolors. He won medals at Expositions in Philadelphia, Buffalo, Charleston, and Paris. He was a friend of Thomas and Mary Moran, both accomplished etchers. His work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He died in New York City in 1905.

-- Kathleen Durham