John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)
John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)

Near Newport, Rhode Island

John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)
Near Newport, Rhode Island
oil on canvas
10¼ x 24 in. (26 x 61 cm.)
The artist.
Estate of the above.
(Possibly) Sale: Association Hall, New York, 25 March 1873, no. 178.
Private collection, Arizona.
Christie's, New York, 5 December 1986, lot 36.
Alexander Gallery, New York.
Private collection, New Jersey.
Christie's, New York, 26 May 1999, lot 20.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Alexander Gallery, The Hudson River School: Congenial Observations, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, n.p., no. 9, illustrated.
New York, Alexander Gallery, The Hudson River School: Congenial Observations, September 24-October 31, 1987.

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Lot Essay

Even in the artist's early career, John F. Kensett achieved considerable acclaim for his depictions of the American landscape. Following seven years of study abroad, Kensett returned to America and immediately embarked on a career grounded in the close study of nature. Writing in 1867, Henry Tuckerman made note of the artist's early success, "He commenced a series of careful studies of our mountain, lake, forest, and coast landscape; and in his delineation of rocks, trees, and water, attained a wide and permanent celebrity. Year after year he studiously explored and faithfully painted the mountains of New England and New York, the lakes and rivers of the Middle States, and the Eastern sea-coast, selecting with much judgment or combining with rare tact the most characteristic features and phases of each. Many of these landscapes, patiently elaborated as they were from studies made from nature, at once gained the artist numerous admirers and liberal patrons." (Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, New York, reprinted 1967, p. 511)

Intensely interested in the various possibilities for landscape, Kensett went on to develop his own very personal style. The changeable qualities of light and atmosphere became central to his work, for he considered them concrete elements of the landscape. More specifically, "he became well known for his ability to endow a scene with his own tranquil, poetic feeling...Kensett shifted from the more conventional anecdotal picturesque mode derived from the tradition of [Thomas] Cole and [Asher Brown] Durand, to the quiet openness, light, and simplification of form, color, and composition that is now recognized as his mature style and associated with the phenomenon of 'luminism.'" (J.P. Driscoll, J.K. Howat, John Frederick Kensett: An American Master, New York, 1985, p. 99)

Near Newport, Rhode Island, No. 9 embodies the main principles of Kensett's ideology. Central to Kensett's Luminist works, the composition is reduced almost to abstraction, making the subtle gradations of color the key to comprehending the work. The composition is devoid of any human presence, forcing the viewer to acknowledge the omnipresence of nature. The only reference to mankind's existence is the group of sailboats that dot the horizon, however they are barely noticeable against the vast ocean and sky. Taking another step to abstract the composition, Kensett has deftly juxtaposed the proximity of the foreground with the horizon in the far distance. This has the effect of leading the viewer from the closest point in the foreground to the farthest distance, again emphasizing nature's immeasurable size. The work is also representative of Kensett's increasing interest in the effects of brilliant light, which impart a sense of serenity to his best work.

Newport, Rhode Island with its long stretches of sandy beaches was the natural choice for Kensett to develop his Luminist theories, for "the shores and headlines of New England naturally lent themselves to his heightened preoccupation with light, color, and reflective surfaces. Such scenery also met his compelling desire to reduce compositions to nature's basic components--earth, water, and sky--which in their inherent emotional and philosophical content expressed the artist's convictions concerning nature's tranquil sublimity." (John Frederick Kensett: An American Master, p. 99)

For Tuckerman, who recognized Kensett's devotion to European subjects as well as American--the artist's views of his native land were the consummate proof of his success. "The calm sweetness of Kensett's best efforts, the conscientiousness with which he preserves local diversities--the evenness of manner, the patience in detail, the harmonious tone--all are traceable to the artist's feeling and innate disposition, as well as to his skill. If we desired to carry abroad genuine memorials of native scenery--to keep alive its impression in a foreign land--we should select half-a-dozen of Kensett's landscapes." (Book of the Artists, p. 514)

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

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