John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872), Sunset in the Adirondacks, 1859, oil on canvas, 40 x 60in Sunset in the Adirondacks 40 x 60 1/2in (101.6 x 153.7cm) (Painted in 1859.)

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Lot 48W
John Frederick Kensett(1816-1872)
Sunset in the Adirondacks 40 x 60 1/2in (101.6 x 153.7cm)

Sold for US$ 225,075 inc. premium

American Art

19 Nov 2019, 16:00 EST

New York

John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)
Sunset in the Adirondacks
signed with artist's initials and dated 'J.K. 59' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 60 1/2in (101.6 x 153.7cm)
Painted in 1859.


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    (possibly) Robert M. Olyphant.
    William Randolph Hearst.
    Private collection, New York, 1941.
    Bequeathed to a private collection, New York, 1995.
    Private collection, New York, 2000.

    New York, Driscoll Babcock Galleries, This Is How We Do It, September 13-October 27, 2012.

    John Frederick Kensett, "Journals of Paintings Sold," recorded under entry for 1859.
    Henry T. Tuckerman, Books of the Artists, New York, 1867, with later editions, pp. 510-14.
    C.E.C. Waters and L. Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century with Their Works, vol. II, Boston and New York, 1879, with later editions, pp. 20-21.
    John Driscoll and Arnold Skolnick, The Artist and the American Landscape, California, 1998, p. 10, illustrated.

    This painting will be included in the forthcoming John Frederick Kensett catalogue raisonné being prepared under the direction of Dr. John Driscoll.

    John Frederick Kensett was one of the most accomplished painters of the second generation of the Hudson River School along with Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), and Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904). Kensett, along with the other artists of the Hudson River School, developed a reputation for Luminism, a landscape painting style often characterized by intricate and delicate depictions of light, weather, and atmospheric conditions through aerial perspectives and a technique that conceals visible brushstrokes. Sunset in the Adirondacks, painted on a striking large-scale format, exemplifies Kensett's progression into the Luminist style and depicts the mountain region in upstate New York that he would return to for inspiration for years to come. The present work reveals the influence that Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) had on Kensett's work, encouraging his focus on capturing details of the landscape in a realist manner while conveying a sublime, poetic atmosphere. A key aim of the Hudson River School artists, Kensett included, was finding inspiration in their own country and projecting the majesty of the American landscape through grand depictions such as the present work. Kensett once wrote "I long to get amid the scenery of my own country for it abounds with the picturesque, the grand, and the beautiful – to revel among the striking scenes which a bountiful hand has spread over its wide-extended and almost boundless territory." (John Kensett, December 16, 1844, as quoted in J.P. Driscoll, J.K. Howat, John Frederick Kensett: An American Master, 1985, p. 62).

    Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut in 1816 to English engraver and artist, Thomas Kensett (1786-1829) and Elizabeth Daggett Kensett. Kensett attended school at the Cheshire Academy and studied engraving with his father, and later his uncle, Alfred Daggett (1799-1872). He successfully worked as an engraver in New Haven, Connecticut with his father until 1829, when Kensett at the age of thirteen went to New York to work in the shop of Peter Maverick (1755-1811), America's most renowned engraver during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. While apprenticing at Maverick's shop, he met artists Thomas Rossiter (1818-1871) and John William Casilear (1811-1893), who would become his lifelong friend and one of Kensett's biggest supporters to encourage him to pursue his career as a painter. By 1840, seeking to escape his life of engraving, Kensett, Rossiter, Casilear, and Durand set sail for Europe to travel and study. Kensett's arrival in London on the steamship British Queen marked the beginning of what would be seven and half years of work and study in Europe and would prove instrumental in his development as an artist. He spent five years touring England and France and then traveled on to Italy touring Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, and Verona.

    Just before his return to New York, by November 1847, Kensett had received several important commissions in Italy and was beginning to experience true success in his artistic career. Furthermore, he had finished painting The Shrine – A Scene in Italy (Private Collection), which for Kensett was a personal success and represented the culmination of the influences and painting techniques he gained from his studies in Europe. By 1848, Kensett had returned to New York to discover that a healthy market for his work had awaited him. He received praise from critics and was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member in 1848. In the spring of that same year, he exhibited five of his works at the National Academy exhibition, including The Shrine – A Scene in Italy, and was gaining recognition as one of America's prominent landscape painters of the day. After establishing his studio in New York, Kensett traveled extensively throughout the Northeastern United States and as far West as Colorado. He became best known for his landscapes depicting upstate New York and New England, as well as seascapes of coastal New Jersey, Long Island, and New England.

    By 1859, when Kensett painted Sunset in the Adirondacks, he had already spent a great deal of time exploring the Adirondacks, as well as the surrounding mountain regions in the Northeast, through sketching trips made with Casilear and others. Kensett had produced dozens of studies and several accomplished works depicting the beauty of the area, such as his highly regarded work, Adirondack Scenery (1854, Private Collection). Characteristic of his earlier works depicting the Adirondacks, in Sunset in the Adirondacks, Kensett chose a vantage point looking onward toward the peaks of the Adirondacks, including possibly Mount Marcy, with a body of water in the foreground. Each tree and rock formation in the painting has been painted with precision and, in pure luminist style, Kensett has painted the light from the sun swathing over the mountain tops, giving the sky, clouds and the light fog that rests over the mountains a warm distinctive glow. Kensett would continue to revisit the Adirondack Mountains as a subject throughout the remainder of his career, developing a strong interest in Lake George, notably including Lake George (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) painted in 1869. Sunset in the Adirondacks, which was formerly in the collection of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), stands in Kensett's oeuvre as one of the artist's largest and most accomplished works on the subject of the Adirondacks.
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