Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
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Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
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Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire
signed and dated 'S.R. Gifford. 1860.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
12 x 23 in. (30.5 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 1860.
The artist.
Samuel Hallet, acquired from the above, 1861.
June Hallet Richdale Smoot, by descent.
Estate of the above.
Sale: Everything But the House, Cincinnati, Ohio, 8 December 2019, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
A Memorial Catalogue of the Paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford, N.A., New York, 1881, p. 23, no. 231 (as Lake Sinapee [sic]).

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

A letter from the recognized expert on the artist, Dr. Ila Weiss, accompanies this lot.

In the late nineteenth century, Lake Sunapee, near Newbury, New Hampshire, became a growing destination for vacationers from New England, New York and New Jersey. The new B & M railroad line allowed for easy transportation, and by 1854 one of the first commercial boats on the lake was being propelled by horsepower. Steamboat services provided a popular means to travel between the various cottages and resorts developing around the lake into the 1920s. Inspired by a visit by Sanford Gifford to the area circa 1858-59, Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire captures the idyllic natural beauty of the region in the artist’s quintessential luminist style.

According to Gifford expert Dr. Ila Weiss, the present work is the largest known version of Lake Sunapee by the artist. Weiss explains, “A known pencil drawing and two known smaller oil versions of this subject document the development of the concept and provide telling comparisons. Gifford typically starting with pencil drawings of a subject of interest, including a small sketch composing the view for a painting. The surviving drawing is a small composition inscribed ‘Lake Sunapee Oct 7,’ found adjacent to drawings of the Hudson Highlands dated Oct. 3 and 4. Most likely the composition was an idea for a painting based on lost New Hampshire drawings (probably dating from 1858 or 1859) that occurred to him in the autumn of 1860.” (unpublished letter, November 27, 2019)

Weiss posits that Gifford may have revisited the Lake Sunapee scene from his earlier 1858-59 sketching trip because he was executing multiple commissions for railroad developer and banker Samuel Hallet. A noted patron of Gifford, Hallet acquired the present work directly from the artist in 1861. He also owned multiple works by the artist, including Gifford’s iconic Twilight in the Catskills (1861, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut).

The sketchbook drawing relates closely to the present final painting, outlining the basic contours of the mountains, band of woods and foreground outcropping (with corresponding reflection) as seen in this work. Gifford then created a small oil painting of the scene, measuring 6 x 11 in. (sold at Christie’s, 20 May 2009, lot 83), which adds in the rowboat as well as two figures along the shore at left. An intermediate painting followed, measuring 8 x 15 1⁄2 in. (formerly in the collection of Yale University), in which Gifford especially refined the foreground trees, as Weiss notes, “to put more emphasis on a single golden birch towards the tip of land—a hallmark of Gifford’s style in this period—positioned between the man with the boat and a woman and child sheltered beneath the largest red tree.”

With its picturesque lakeside panorama and warm autumnal hues, the present final version of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire exemplifies the articulate visions of nature which Gifford created through his ingenious use of luminism to convey emotion. As art historian John Wilmerding reflects, “Sanford Gifford developed a modification of the picturesque composition that enabled him to emphasize his major concern and master subject, the effects of light and color. He selected and modified views to create bowls of the landscape to serve as containers for the light-filled air...Gifford believed that ‘the really important matter is not the natural object itself, but the veil or medium through which we see it.’” (American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850-1875, Washington D.C., 1980, p. 36)

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