Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)
Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)

Greenwood Lake

Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)
Greenwood Lake
signed and dated 'J.F. Cropsey/1879' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23¾ x 43½ in. (60.3 x 110.5 cm.)
Private collection, California.
Christie's, New York, 1 December 1989, lot 55.
Henry D. Ostberg, New York, acquired from the above.
Michael N. Altman & Co., Inc., New York, by 1992.
Private collection.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1995.
Private collection, 1996.
Sale: Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, 21 May, 2002, lot 27.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.

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Lot Essay

Jasper Cropsey's Greenwood Lake is one of the most captivating and dynamic depictions of the area that held the artist's fascination from the beginning of his career in the early 1840s until his final landscapes of the 1890s. Cropsey, born and raised on Staten Island and trained as a professional architect, was encouraged by dealer John P. Ridner to go on a sketching expedition. Greenwood Lake, which straddles the border of New York and New Jersey, is approximately seven miles long and provided a myriad of views that served as artistic inspiration.

Cropsey's architectural background undoubtedly informed his precise observations of the landscape surrounding the lake and accounted for his exacting topographical rendering and meticulous attention to detail that were characteristic of his career. He noted in an 1845 lecture to the New York Art Re-Union that "I find recalling to mind those that have the greatest works have been the most attentive to nature--have gained their principles in the art, and their feeling for color from her; their best works or the works that met with the most admiration, are their nearest approaches to nature." (E.M. Foshay, Jasper F. Cropsey: Artist and Architect, New York, 1987, pp. 19-20) Yet despite the accuracy with which Cropsey was capable of rendering a scene, he was not immune to rearranging certain elements compositionally for greater aesthetic impact, thereby participating in "the two sides of the complex philosophical debate that engaged many nineteenth century landscape painters: the importance of the real versus the ideal in the representation of nature." (E.M. Foshay, Jasper F. Cropsey: Artist and Architect, New York, 1987, p. 19)

Autumn in the Northeast is one of America's most unique and engaging attributes. Cropsey, perhaps understanding the potential for forging a specific national identity based on the brilliant hues so inherent to our native shores, increasingly chose to paint the fall months until he became our most celebrated painter of the season. Mark Mitchell writes, "By embracing this season as his signature subject, Cropsey signaled his patriotic belief in the nation's uniqueness. The American identity of his subject was driven home to Cropsey and his patrons by the success of Autumn on the Hudson River (1860, National Gallery of Art) when the work was exhibited in London." (in an essay dated spring 2003).

Greenwood Lake, which features all of the hallmarks of Cropsey's best works--a crystalline lake, hill, rugged terrain, a strong diagonal path and a split-rail fence, is particularly noteworthy for its dazzling palette and ambitious scale. A pair of hunters traverse the path, overshadowed by the foliage of the impressive trees in a symphony of colors. The lake is seen in the distance, basked in the warm glow of the setting sun. The inspiration that Cropsey found at Greenwood Lake is once again championed in this work which demonstrates the artist's "desire to capture both the visual and affective qualities of the changing seasons. The undisputed beauty and infinite variety of nature in America inspired Cropsey and other artists of his generation to observe it closely, explore it, make sketches of sites and details, and, ultimately, canonize it in large-scale paintings. These paintings were a tribute to the potential of America's landscape, as a reflection of its creator, to bring its inhabitants closer to God and to help forge a national identity sanctified by this connection." (Jasper Francis Cropsey: Artist and Architect, p. 18)

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Jasper Francis Cropsey by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

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