Catalog of the Fine Arts Collection

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Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), American
Autumn on the Ramapo River—Erie Railway, 1876
OIL ON CANVAS, 37 1/8 x 63 1/8 inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks

This grand paean to the distinctive color and romantic grandeur of the American fall is among Jasper Cropsey's most ambitious compositions. When he exhibited the work at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition in 1876, he priced it at $2,500, the high­est amount that he ever listed there. The work displays autumnal brilliance in a luminous palette constituted of new, synthetic pigments introduced during the later 18505 and i86os, Cropsey's fall scenes, of which Autumn on the Ramapo River - Erie Railway is in many ways a culminating example, distill the ideal of the American autumn to its essence: fiery leaves, sun-bathed scenery, peaceful rivers, and romantic experience.

Cropsey, a follower of the pioneering American landscapist Thomas Cole, was a lead­ing exemplar of the second generation of Hudson River School painters that flourished during the 1850s and 186os. He maintained and further explored the romantic approach to the landscape that Cole had introduced during the later 1820s. During the 186os, Cropsey ratcheted up the color and luminosity of his compositions to accentuate their emotive effects. By 1876, the brilliance of his landscapes had reached its apogee. Shortly thereafter, the artist's career entered a steep decline as popular taste shifted in favor of the European-influenced aesthetics imported by a new generation of young artists who had returned from training abroad after the Civil War.

The reference to the Erie Railway at the end of Cropsey's title remains a mystery even today. Nostalgia may have played a role, however, as the Erie Railway, which had connected New York City and Lake Erie since 1851, went bankrupt and was sold in April of 1875, the year before Cropsey painted this composition. The Erie Railway intersected the Ramapo River near the artist's home in Warwick, New York, close to the New Jersey state line. Could Cropsey's scene represent a glimpse from the window of a train as it passed by? The painting's elevated vantage point reinforces that possibility, particularly absent any other evidence of a railroad in the composition. Notably, Cropsey, who was also an architect, designed a series of fourteen train stations for New York City's Sixth Avenue Elevated Railway in the same year that he painted this scene.

 

 
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