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Sanford R. Gifford - The View from South Mountain, in the Catskills

Sanford R. Gifford (1823-1880), American
The View from South Mountain, in the Catskills (South Mountain, Catskills), 1873
OIL ON CANVAS, 21 x 40 inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks

Sanford Gifford's art is notable for its radiance. Like a number of his peers working in the aesthetic mode known today as luminism, Gifford approached light and atmosphere as a medium through which to perceive the world, and he rendered their presence with great subtlety. Gentle gradations of tone and color characterize his art, and the figures and objects that inhabit his landscapes are kept to the margins so that they do not impede the fullest appreciation of the effulgent atmosphere in the distance. In The View from South Mountain, in the Catskills, two climbers join us on the heights to share our experience of the panoramic expanse.

New York's Catskill Mountains loom large in Gifford's art. He was raised in the nearby town of Hudson, and his experience of the Catskills therefore formed an integral part of his life and art from the very beginning. By the 1860s, Gifford had succeeded America's pioneering Hudson River School landscapist, Thomas Cole, as the Catskills' leading artistic voice. Throughout the Civil War years of the early 186os, whenever he was on leave from his service in the army, Gifford made visits to his best-loved sites in the region, perhaps deriving comfort from their familiarity and peaceful grandeur. He first depicted this particular view during one of his wartime visits in 1863, only to revisit it ten years later in this work. This vantage obscures the famous nearby tourist hotel, the Catskill Mountain House, emphasizing our unobstructed view of the sky from the mountain's peak. The shattered limbs in the foreground remind us that nature is not always so peaceful.

Despite extensive travels throughout the world from the mid-i85os until his death in 1880, Gifford returned to the Catskills again and again. His visits undoubtedly influenced his approach to the many and diverse landscapes of the world that he visited during his life, from Europe, to the Middle East, to Alaska.