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Sanford Gifford Luminist Oil Painting of Lake Sunapee, 1860

Item Details

Sanford Robinson Gifford (American, 1823 – 1880)
Untitled, 1860
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated “S.R. Gifford 1860.” to lower right
Stamp to canvas verso
Inscriptions to stretcher verso reads dimensions
Presented in a gilt gesso wood frame with foliate molding
Metal name plate affixed to lower center of frame

From the estate of June Hallett Richdale Smoot, descended from Samuel Hallet (1827 – 1864), who purchased the painting from the artist in 1861.

A Memorial catalogue of the paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford, N. A. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1881), page 23, MC 231.
Catalogue citation reads: Lake Sinapee [sic]. Size, 12×22. Sold in 1861 to Samuel Hallett.

Everything But the House is grateful to Dr. Ila Weiss who examined the painting and provided a letter of authentication for this work.

An oil painting on canvas of Lake Sunapee by renowned Hudson River School artist Sanford Robinson Gifford (American, 1823 – 1880), created in 1860. This luminist landscape painting of Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire features a lake in the mountains, with three figures to the left on a forested spit of land interjecting into the lake. A sailboat is visible along the distant shore, slightly right of the center. The painting is signed and dated “S.R. Gifford. 1860.” to the lower right and is presented in a gilt gesso wood frame with foliate molding. A canvas manufacturer’s stamp is marked to the canvas verso.

Hudson River School artists of the 19th century often painted two types of landscapes: the “sublime" landscape and “luminist” landscape. As opposed to the sublime landscape, which tends to focus on the unpredictable, even dangerous aspects of nature, the “luminist landscape”, as exemplified in this work by Gifford, tends to focus on the subtle infusion of light, much more subtle tonal gradations in the sky, a more tranquil scene with placid waters, and an emphasis placed on the horizontal expanse. Gifford’s painting exhibits a unifying haze diffused throughout the sky and reflected throughout the lake. A filmy illumination across the mountains skillfully illustrates a sense of distance and atmospheric fog, an aspect that was often rendered in Gifford’s luminist paintings. Gifford regularly painted lake scenes of the Hudson River Valley and the New England area, and painted this particular subject several times. It was not unusual for him and other Hudson River School artists to paint the same subject repeatedly, either from different perspectives, or as studies for larger or more complex paintings. Several versions of this subject painted by Gifford exist, and according to Dr. Ila Weiss, this work is the largest known version of the subject depicted. A much smaller version was sold at Christie’s in 2009.

This painting was completed at a time that Gifford was maturing as an artist and gaining more popularity among his contemporaries. Interestingly, it was also painted one year before the artist enlisted in the army for the American Civil War. Some of his work that he completed during the Civil War exhibited more dramatic, infernal qualities, such as overwhelming sunlight, and dilapidated or barren trees, perhaps as a reflection of the tumultuous times caused by the War. This work of Lake Sunapee is emplematic of Gifford’s more traditional style, for which he was known, shortly before he began experimenting with more sublime qualities.

The painting is from the collection of June Hallett Richdale Smoot, the great-great granddaughter of Samuel Hallett (1827 – 1864). Hallett was an affluent gentleman and a pioneer in the development of the American railroads in the 19th century. He was especially known for his development of the eastern branch of the Union Pacific Railroad and the bank Hallett & Co. Bank that he opened in New York City. In 1854 Hallett built a stately home known as the “Hallett House” or “The Aisle of Pines”, located in Wayne, New York. While the home was lost due to a devastating fire in the 1970s, both of the Sanford Gifford paintings in this Landmark sale were fortunately saved.

Sanford Robinson Gifford was a leading second-generation Hudson River School artist who was celebrated for his mastery of light and atmosphere. He is the only known Hudson River School artist to have been born and raised in the Hudson River Valley. He may have received early art instruction from Henry Ary, who was previously a neighbor of Thomas Cole, the father of the Hudson River School. Gifford studied at Brown University for two years but left before graduating in pursuit of becoming an artist. He moved to New York City where he studied with the English emigré John Rubens Smith, who trained him as a portrait and figural painter; however, Gifford soon thereafter pursued landscape painting. He exhibited his first painting in 1847 at the National Academy of Design, then submitted almost annually to the Academy. Gifford was elected an associate of the Academy in 1850, and a full Academician in 1854. His artistic maturity began to develop in the mid 1850s while traveling and studying in Europe. It was in Europe that he studied a copied J.M.W. Turner’s work in London’s National Gallery. He continued to travel extensively throughout Europe, then settled in Rome in 1856, where he painted his first major work Lake Nemi (Toledo Museum of Art), which was well-received at the Academy, and featured his signature radiant sunlight and filmy atmosphere for which he is most well-known. In the fall of 1857, Gifford moved back to New York City and rented a studio in the new Studio Building, where Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and other landscape painters also rented. Although Gifford was known for his luminist style, it was in the 1860s that his work began to show a shift, exhibiting some sublime qualities, which may have been influenced by the fact that the artist was serving in the Civil War and lost his brother Edward in the War and his brother Charles who committed suicide. In 1867, one of his paintings, in addition to a painting by Winslow Homer, was chosen to represent American art at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Like other Hudson River School artists, Gifford traveled and painted landscapes abroad in several countries including Egypt, Turkey, Greece, in addition to several countries throughout Europe. In 1880, the artist contracted a respiratory ailment while on a fishing excursion, which caused his untimely death at the age of fifty-six. A year after his death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art accorded Gifford their first monographic retrospective in their new building located in Central Park. His work has been exhibited and collected extensively by numerous institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many others.


- inpainting present throughout mountains on the right; parts of the largest tree to the left may have been repainted, according to Dr. Ila Weiss; small spots of accretion scattered throughout; one inch repair present to the mid left of canvas verso; faint five-inch scratch present to lower mid area of painting; rubbing and paint loss along edges of painting; overall, painting is in remarkable state of preservation.


32.5" W x 21.5" H x 3.5" D

- measurement of frame; canvas on stretcher measures approximately 22.75" W x 12" H.

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