Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)

Sunrise on the Seashore

Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
Sunrise on the Seashore
signed and dated 'SR Gifford 1865' (lower right)
oil on canvas
11 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. (29.9 x 50.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1865-67.
John Thompson Wilson, by 1880.
Josephine Burrell.
Isabella Egenton Kinnan Burnham, niece of the above, wedding gift from the above, 1882.
By descent to the present owner.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gifford Memorial Catalogue, New York, 1881, p. 31, no. 410 (as Sunset on the Sea).
I. Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford, Newark, New Jersey, 1987, pp. 162, 243.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Memorial Collection of the Works of the Late Sanford R. Gifford, October 1880-May 1881, pp. 4, 10, no. 125 (as Sunset).

Lot Essay

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

Dr. Ila Weiss writes that "this exquisite and important example of Gifford's work" depicts the same view of the New Jersey coastline as Long Branch of 1864 (Private Collection), a painting also 11 by 19 inches which includes figures within this setting. "Both are orange-lit sunrise effects at the seashore, with similar cloud, wave, and wet sand reflections, but Long Branch adds fishermen and boats, and shows the sun full-orbed and bisected by a stratum of blue haze. Sunrise on the Seashore omits the figures to focus on the elemental effects of colored light and atmosphere, with the yellow and orange sunlight diffused through dense haze near the horizon; a contrasting crescent moon and a star added above; lower, more intensely lighted clouds; and a larger effect of reflection on the wet sand."

Sunrise on the Seashore is also likely related to a "lost masterpiece of that title dated 1867, 23 by 42 inches, which was owned by Robert Hoe and which was also exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum's Loan Collection of 1880-1881. This painting had profoundly impressed artists and critics when it was exhibited at the National Academy in 1867. In Book of Artists (1867), Henry T. Tuckerman described it as 'depicting only sea and sky as they appear at sunrise from the low shores of New Jersey at Long Branch, with no accessories--bare, solitary, vast, elemental nature--with such truth in wave and air, in strand and horizon, in light and perspective as to captivate the eyes, as the lone sea-shore itself does in sublime reality.'...Gifford's fellow artist John F. Weir felt the image personally and profoundly: 'Mr. Gifford has expressed in this picture...that depth of being which echoes 'like pulses beating in mid air' to the sound of the monotonous waves breaking the beach...Each wave is filled with a sense of motion, limped, changeful in color, and comprehended in some higher, unifying action.'"

Because of its relation to the later, missing masterwork, "Sunrise on the Seashore may have been sketched and left unfinished at about the time of the Long Branch painting, then perhaps worked on again in preparation for the exhibition piece of 1867...At that time Gifford may have decided it would be more appropriate to date the painting to its original conception, recalling that as 1865. This conjectural scenario is in keeping with the artist's practice." (unpublished letter, March 17, 1998) A close inspection of the inscription furthers this hypothesis, as Weiss writes, "the signature and date were overpainted at some time, seemingly in Gifford's hand, but the '5' is especially emphatic which seems to support my supposition. The original inscription is not legible." (unpublished letter, October 12, 2016)

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