David Johnson (American, 1827-1908) On the Wallkill River, Ulster County, New York, 1869 28 x 44in
Lot 44
David Johnson (American, 1827-1908) On the Wallkill River, Ulster County, New York, 1869 28 x 44in
Sold for US$ 194,500 inc. premium
Auction Details
American Art New York
28 Nov 2012 14:00 EST

Auction 20075
Lot Details
Property of various owners
David Johnson (American, 1827-1908)
On the Wallkill River, Ulster County, New York, 1869
signed with monogram and dated 'DJ./1869.' (lower left) and signed, dated and inscribed 'On the Wallkill River, Ulster, Co., N.Y./David Johnson 1869' (on the reverse prior to lining)
oil on canvas
28 x 44in

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    Private collection, 1967
    By descent to the present owner

    EXHIBITED:
    (Possibly) New York, National Academy of Design, 1869, no. 244 (as On the Wallkill River).

    LITERATURE:
    (Possibly) Gwendolyn Owens, "A Working List of Paintings by David Johnson," Nature Transcribed: The Landscapes and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827-1908), exhibition catalogue, Hanover, 1988, p. 78 (as On the Wallkill River).

    Born in New York City in 1827, Hudson River School painter David Johnson would not travel far for inspiration. His earliest known paintings date to the late 1840s, and it appears that his first sketch from nature was executed in the Catskill Mountains, more specifically at the famous Kauterskill Clove, in 1849. Although details known about the artist's life are limited, it is widely recognized that Johnson had little or no formal artistic training except for a few lessons with Jasper F. Cropsey in 1850. (see Gwendolyn Owens, Nature Transcribed: The Landscape and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827-1908), 1988, p.13) Even so, Johnson was an established and qualified painter by this time, having previously exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the American Art-Union. (G. Owens, Nature Transcribed: The Landscape and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827-1908), p. 17) The 1850s provided to be a time of fruitful experimentation for the artist, who played with compositional structures, new subjects and locations—all leading to his successful formula of the 1860s.

    "In the mid-1860s, Johnson began to paint the first of many pictures of mountains and lakes in what became for him a set compositional format." (G. Owens, Nature Transcribed: The Landscape and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827-1908), p. 28) This format is discernible in the present work, On the Wallkill River, Ulster County, 1869, as it is comprised of strong elements (usually trees) framing the picture while smaller figures or cows are placed in the foreground and the eye of the viewer is drawn back (in this case by the river) to a central focus, typically a mountain or peak. Like many of the other Hudson River School painters, Johnson never varies from his keen attention to detail, identifying even the most minuet parts of a greater whole. To his credit, Gwendolyn Owens classifies Johnson as a "botanist" of sorts—which was typical for this movement even as early as their founder, Thomas Cole, who said, "Detail....ought not to be neglected in the grandest subject. A picture without detail is a mere sketch." (American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, p. 27)

    On the Wallkill River, Ulster County, 1869, exemplifies only the benchmark attributes of Johnson's distinctive, yet uniform style. With regard to works from this period, Gwendolyn Owens states, "Unlike the larger landscapes of Cropsey, Church, or Cole, Johnson's paintings on a grand scale do not center upon the theatrical spectacle of sublime sunsets, waterfalls, cloud effects, high mountains or other unusual phenomena. They are simply larger versions of the pastoral landscapes one sees in his smaller works. This makes Johnson's task in many ways more difficult than that of his contemporaries; his problem was to present a view of a calm, peaceful river valley in such a way that it would nonetheless still attract the viewer's active eye: sheep to count, stone walls to follow, people walking on paths, a train discernible in the distance, and overall an attractive patchwork pattern of trees and pastureland. These are not the type of paintings for which the public would buy tickets, gasping as the work was first dramatically revealed from behind its curtain. These works offer slow, leisurely enjoyment, rather than a sudden thrill; the light and color here are subdued, not ecstatically heightened; these versions are anchored by the strong horizontal of rounded background mountains, rather than rising with craggy, misty peaks into infinite space" (G. Owens, Nature Transcribed: The Landscape and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827-1908), pp. 34-35).
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