Executed circa early 1860s.
Sanford Robinson Gifford's superb renderings of the nineteenth century American landscape are exceptionally articulate visions of nature. Gifford's compositions, complemented by the artist's ingenious use of light to convey emotion, are among the boldest conceived of the nineteenth century. Whether or not Sanford Gifford's style can be definitively characterized as luminist, it is certain that Gifford shares the luminist artists's preoccupation with light, atmosphere, and attention to detail.
Gifford completed several small pencil and oil sketches depicting similar views of Mote Mountain during the late 1850s and early 60s as preparative studies for larger, finished works. In comparing the present work with another in the series, Dr. Ila Weiss notes in a letter dated July 2002 that "both paintings most likely originated with a contour drawing defining the distance of the view, inscribed 'Mote Mt. 16 Sep' in a sketchbook of 1854 at the Albany Institute. This painting's foreground motif of a silhouetted pine rising above autumn foliage may have been suggested by another drawing, inscribed 'Sept 7th 54, N.C.' [North Conway], among the New Hampshire views in the same sketchbook. In keeping with Gifford's procedure, one or more smaller oil sketches, now lost, would have established the composition and effect of light and atmosphere, preceding the more refined and elaborated mid-sized paintings."
Dr. Weiss goes on to say that "[Mote Mountain from Echo Lake, N.H.] was most likely preliminary to the slightly larger published version. It is closer to nature in observing the disparate shapes of rocks and irregularity of tree shapes, specificity of mountainous forms and textures, and variety of color." Gifford mingles these specific highlights of nature with the expansive scale of the rugged terrain. Overwhelmed by the divine presence of nature, Gifford has rendered a small group of Native Americans on the lake's shore with the most minimal strokes of paint. A large rock formation in the foreground provides a sense of stability to the composition, with strong, deliberate strokes of warm paint receding to a hazier middle ground and background composed of softer blues and pinks. Not only does Gifford create a dramatic scene of the depth of nature, but through aerial luminism he creates a deeper spatial organization and a transcendental notion of the passage from God to Nature to Man. With works of this nature, Dr. Weiss notes that "the drama of space (implying temporal distance) is heightened by warm autumnal coloring in foreground and middle distance, contrasted with the predominantly cool, pink-infused blue-gray of the distance." (Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford Robinson Gifford, Newark, Delaware, 1987, p. 224)
"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...The clarity of the trees in the foreground are in contrast with the veiled forms in the distance. Gifford believed that 'the really important matter is not the natural object itself, but the veil or medium through which we see it.'" (J. Wilmerding, American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850-1875, Washington, 1980, p. 36).
A letter from Dr. Ila Weiss accompanies this lot.