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Mount Chocurua, New Hampshire

Mount Chocurua, New Hampshire

A Gorge in the Mountains

A Gorge in the Mountains

Sandy Hooke,  New Jersey

Sandy Hooke, New Jersey


Kauterskill 1

Sanford Robinson Gifford

The Hudson River school: the United States’ first art School

Sanford Robinson Gifford (10 July 1823 – 29 August 1880) was a member of the 19th-century American Hudson River School and, as did members of this school, he painted landscapes and seascapes.  Gifford first studied art under the direction of John R. Smith, a water-colorist and drawing-master.  He painted the scenery that surrounded him: the North-East coast of the United States, but he also travelled and studied abroad, as did many Hudson River school artists.  They were in search of scenery.  Gifford first travelled to Europe in 1855 and met Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredged. Gifford was in fact close to several members of the Hudson River school, the United States’ first art school.[i]

Most members of the Hudson River school travelled not only to Europe but also to various parts of the United States.  Gifford travelled to Vermont in 1858 and spent the summer of 1867 on the New Jersey coast, at Sandy Hooke and Long Branch and, in 1870, he went to the Rocky Mountains accompanied by Worthington Whittredged and John Frederick Kensett, the most prominent member of the Hudson River school.

Meanwhile, however, in 1668, Gifford had returned to Europe and travelled to the Middle East and to Egypt.


When he travelled, Gifford made sketches and, on his return to his studio, in New York, he would enlarge his sketches into small oil paintings and then enlarge his small oil paintings into large paintings, the definitive work.  Therefore, the date given a painting does not necessarily correspond to the date the sketch was made.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Gifford joined the Union Army and subsequently returned to his studio in New York.

He died of malaria, in New York, at the age of 57.


The paintings of members of the Hudson River school are associated with luminism.  Luminism resembles Impressionism in that artists attempt to capture the effect of light on landscapes and seascapes.  Light molds an object.  However, American luminism is much less suggestive than French Impressionism. The artworks of French Impressionists are at times blurred to the point of abstraction.

According to Wikipedia,

luminism  is characterized by attention to detail and the hiding of brushstrokes, while impressionism is characterized by lack of detail and an emphasis on brushstrokes. Luminism preceded impressionism, and the artists who painted in a luminist style were in no way influenced by impressionism.

As for the Encyclopædia Britannicait describes luminism as a “late 19th-century painting style emphasizing a unique clarity of light.  It was characteristic of the works of a group of independent American painters who were directly influenced by the Hudson River school of painting.  The term, however, was not coined until 1954 by John Baur, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.”[ii]

In Britannica‘s definition, the operative words are “a unique clarity of light.”  However, members of the Hudson River were never a movement and, if they were “luminists,” it was sans le savoir, unawares.  The term did not exist in the 19th century.[iii]

Best-Known Works

Lake Nemi (1856-57)
The Wilderness (1861)
A Passing Storm (1866)
Ruins of the Parthenon (1880)
[i] List of Hudson River School artists
[ii] “luminism”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013
[iii] Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, NY
A Winter Walk

A Winter Walk


© Micheline Walker
October 18, 2013
Summer Idyll
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