Jasper Francis Cropsey

American, 1823 - 1900
In his 1880 book, Art in America, S. G. W. Benjamin wrote: “The extraordinary variety of the effects of American landscape is…shown by the gorgeousness of our autumnal foliage,” and stated that to paint “effects of sunset, or the scarlet and gold of an American forest in the dreamy days of Indian Summer” was no less absurd than to undertake “to paint the splendor of many-colored drapery in an Oriental crowd,” then “considered a legitimate subject for the artist who has a correct eye for color.” Jasper Cropsey was chief among the artists whom Benjamin saw as capable of seizing “these autumnal displays with fine feeling and excellent judgment,” and he extolled Cropsey’s paintings as “remarkable for their truth and artistic beauty.” Dedicated to the notion that the distinctiveness of the American landscape shone forth best when the wilderness was clothed in the brilliant colors of autumn, Cropsey painted fall scenery with devotion unmatched by his contemporaries among the Hudson River School. Combining such images with the effects of brilliant sunsets, Cropsey’s images are icons of the view, held with certainty, that America was the new Eden.

Cropsey was indelibly associated with autumn from the time he displayed his enormous showpiece Autumn—On the Hudson River (1860, National Gallery of Art, Washington) to hundreds of spectators in London, who were “startled at the red and gold gorgeousness of those trees.” Subsequently he varied and expanded his autumnal repertoire, using a brush handling of greater painterly versatility than his contemporaries, who followed exacting approach of Asher B. Durand more closely. Such a method allowed Cropsey to match form and content, capturing the diversity of natural elements seen near at hand, while recording the shapes of clouds and distant landscape elements with fluid, more expressive means.

In the period following the Civil War, Cropsey continued to perpetutate his autumnal hymns, yet the tone of his images was often more elegiac, evoking a feeling of longing for the ready conviction of an earlier time. Such a mood permeates Autumn Sunset. The basis for the work appears to be Greenwood Lake, in northern New Jersey, which Cropsey visited initially in the 1840s on the invitation of the New York art dealer John P. Rider. Rider introduced Cropsey to his future wife Maria Cooley (1829-1906), whose family lived in a town on the lake, and the couple would stay often with her family in the decades that followed, affording Cropsey many opportunities to study and portray the lake. He also frequently reused subject matter drawn from it for his art. A similar image the lake Greenwood Lake, New Jersey (1871, oil on canvas, 20 x 33 inches, New York Historical Society).
Fine Art as an Investment: Jasper Francis Cropsey (1832-1900)
by Lisa Bush Hankin

Though best known for his resplendent autumn scenes (Fig. 1), Jasper Francis Cropsey pursued a wide range of subjects over the course of his long and productive career and was among the pioneers of the American watercolor movement. The steadily increasing demand for Cropsey's work in the marketplace -- along with growing scholarly interest -- has brought some of his less familiar subjects to light, offering some interesting alternatives for aspiring collectors of this artist's work.

Whether sweeping landscape views, intimate nature studies, or imaginative allegorical scenes, Cropsey's best works are marked by sharp naturalistic detail,skillful use of color, and close attention to the effects of light and atmosphere. The artist's deep interest in the natural world brought him international acclaim in his day. In addition to his patronage on this side of the Atlantic, his depictions of the American landscape in its brilliant fall colors captivated Europeans, most of whom had never seen the blazing hues produced by America's indigenous trees. Cropsey spent time in Europe during the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, and painted several series representing the four seasons where he used Switzerland's winter (Fig. 2), England's spring, Italy's summer, and America's glorious fall to represent the essence of those seasons.

Cropsey's artistic career initially came about as a consequence of his work as a practicing architect. As he began including progressively more skillful landscape details in his early architectural renderings, he carved out a parallel -- and ultimately dominant -- career as a landscape painter. "I believe he was the only architect-trained member of the Hudson River School," observes William Vareika of Newport's William Vareika Fine Arts, "and his artworks reveal great draftsmanship." Vareika is particularly drawn to works by Cropsey that depict architecture in a landscape setting, commenting that the artist "used his architectural training to expertly render forms such as barns, bridges, churches, and houses that would have been constructed by nineteenth-century Americans" (Fig. 3).

Lou Salerno of New York's Questroyal Fine Art notes that as great examples of Cropsey's American scenery become increasingly scarce and expensive, "some very astute collectors realize there is better value for their money in the artist's European scenes." He has seen the differential in prices between American and European subjects narrow appreciably in recent years, and considers it a trend. "American scenes are always the most in demand. But if a European scene has a great sense of light and is beautifully painted, it's a quality example of the artist's work and therefore very desirable."

Serious students of the artist can visit Cropsey's home and studio, "Ever Rest," in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, open to the public through the auspices of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, and where an important and wide-ranging collection of Cropsey's paintings is on permanent view. Under the direction of scholar Kenneth Maddox, the foundation is currently compiling a catalogue raisonnŽ of the artist's work.

The increasing scholarly attention on Cropsey has also included museum exhibitions examining his watercolors (Fig. 4) and his role as an architect, leading to a more complete understanding of his career. Although he views Cropsey as one of the most important and sought-after Hudson River School painters, William Vareika considers him "a bargain in the marketplace, as his prices still lag behind contemporaries like Church, Bierstadt, and Kensett." "If you're building a major Hudson River School collection," Lou Salerno notes, "it would have to include a Cropsey or two to be complete. He's a major American painter with great museum representation."

New York dealer Betty Krulik of Betty Krulik Fine Art Limited sums up Cropsey's steadily ascending importance: "At one time, Cropsey was considered a second-tier Hudson River School artist," she says, "but his prices are first-tier now!"

Article appeared in the Antiques and Fine Art Autumn-Winter 2006 issue, www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles
Jasper Cropsey was a mid-nineteenth century painter and architect known for his detailed, romantic autumn landscapes. A member of the Hudson River School, he reached his artistic peak in 1860 with a nine-foot-long canvas of a New York autumn. Its brilliant colors stunned many of the English viewers to whom it was presented in London.

Cropsey was born on Staten Island, New York, in 1823. He was trained in mechanical drafting and apprenticed at age 15 to architect Joseph Trench. He developed a strong interest in painting and took lessons in painting watercolors.

In 1841, he began doing landscapes in oil, painting scenes of the White Mountains, the Catskill Mountains and areas around Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, as well as literary and thematic landscapes. In 1842 he left Trench's office to devote himself to painting, although he continued to work as an architect.

In The Spirit of War (1851, National Gallery of Art) Cropsey represents war as a mighty medieval fortress set among fantastic geological peaks against a phenomenal sunset. Allegorical paintings like this one, dark and turbulent, were remarkably similar to those of Thomas Cole.

Cropsey went to Europe in 1847 for two years; beginning in 1856, he lived in England for seven years. There, he painted one of his greatest works, Autumn-On the Hudson River (1860, National Gallery of Art), which received critical raves and rated Cropsey an audience with Queen Victoria.

From then on, Cropsey specialized in fall scenes, earning the nickname "America's painter of autumn." He was inclined toward precise detail and had a tendency to be repetitive. In the later years of his life, Cropsey settled on the Hudson River at Hastings, New York, painting oil and watercolor views of the river many times over.

He continued some architectural work throughout his life; among his designs was the Victorian-style Sixth Avenue elevated station in New York City.

Cropsey died in 1900.

Public Collections:
Harvard University
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
New-York Historical Society, New York City

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/roughton
Jasper Cropsey, born in 1823, was a landscape painter and architect. At the age of 13, Cropsey won a diploma from the Mechanics Institute for a house model he constructed. This achievement gained him entry into the architecture office of Joseph Trench, where he worked from 1837-1842. By 1844, Cropesy began to paint full time and spent the next three years in Europe. Cropsey studied landscape painting under Edward Maury and was later associated with the Hudson River School. Cropsey was well known for his brilliant use of color in autumnal landscapes on canvases sometimes reaching nine feet long. In the 1850s, he produced more allegorical and imaginary landscapes with complex themes, which he found could be expressed effectively in serial painting. "The Spirit of War" depicted battle as a mighty medieval fortress among geological peaks that stood dark and turbulent against a vivid sunset. This painting was exhibited with "The Spirit of Peace" in various cities for six years. As an architect, Cropsey designed and superintended the Victorian style 6th Ave elevated stations in New York City. He died in 1900.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/caldwell
Jasper Francis Cropsey was one of the leading painters of the Hudson River School, whose work brought out the color and breadth of the American landscape. Cropsey took the heroic view of nature popularized by the nineteenth-century Romantics and the paintings of Thomas Cole and made it his own. He was soon hailed as "America's painter of autumn" and his work associated with the extraordinary richness of the season he portrayed. Three years after Cropsey's death, Henry James mused over the artist's "luscious paint . . . on these canvases, all autumnal scarlet, amber, orange." James's appreciation demonstrates the elite stature that Cropsey attained: as one of the few members of the Hudson River School with international prestige, he exhibited throughout Europe and the United States; lectured on artistic philosophy; published essays in artistic journals; influenced such students as Norton Bush and David Johnson; and held audiences with the Queen of England. Cropsey first learned the art of landscape painting as an architectural apprentice, acquiring the sense of structural rigor that buttresses his best work. He returned to architecture throughout his life -he was fascinated by the ruins of Rome, created train stations for New York City, and designed his own mansion, "Aladdin," overlooking the Catskills -but shifted his focus to landscape painting in 1842. Cropsey stressed the importance of studying natural form in his essays and lectures, expressing his beliefs in reverent terms: "[T]he voice of God came to me through every motionless leaf, on every blade of grass -the odor of the flower and in every breath of air I drew." His technical virtuosity allowed him to transfer this passionate involvement with nature from canvas to viewer. Through incisive brushstrokes and a pronounced attention to detail, his paintings pronounce the vitality of nature in vigorous form. Cropsey was one of the youngest members ever elected to the National Academy of Design. He helped to found the American Watercolor Society and won a medal from the London International Exposition of 1862. After his death, the Newington Cropsey Foundation in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, was founded to display his extensive oeuvre. The White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid also own Cropsey's paintings.

Biography courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art LLC, www.antiquesandfineart.com/questroyal
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