JOHN FREDERICK KENSETT
"THE COAST NEAR NARRAGANSETT"
oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 12 1⁄4x 20 1⁄4inches,
Private Collection; Chrisitie's, New York, New York, May 25, 1989, lot 48;
Vareika Fine Arts, Newport, Rhode Island; Private Collection, Connecticut;
Private Collection, Florida.
Note: To be included in the John Frederick Kensett catalogue raisonné
being prepared by Driscoll Babcock Galleries.
John F. Kensett was the leading artist of the second-generation of the Hudson River School. Following his father’s footsteps, he trained as an engraver and moved from his native Cheshire, Connecticut to New York City to work for a bank note company. In New York, he met fellow artistsAsher B. Durand, John W. Casilear and Thomas P. Rossiter. The group traveled to Europe together to study painting and visit artists in their studios.
In 1847, when Kensett returned to New York, his reputation preceded him. He had been sending paintings from Europe for exhibitions in New York and was promptly elected to the NationalAcademy of Design. In 1849, he was a founding member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His patrons included some of the most notable names in New York high-society, and he enjoyed a successful career as an artist.
Like his contemporaries, Cole and Durand, Kensett sympathized with the ideology of Manifest Destiny and the power of harmony in nature to promote democracy and educate the public. When he returned from his artistic training in Europe in 1847, Kensett begins to experiment with various techniques in color, light and composition, refining and developing his own mature artistic style nearly a decade later. Now renowned as one of the masters of American Luminism, Kensett’s paintings from this later period capture the sublimity of nature through color, light, and atmosphere.
Unlike other artists Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt, Kensett found inspiration nearby in New England, and would return to his favorite locations on numerous occasions. He painted LakeGeorge, the coastline near Newport, Rhode Island, Beverly, Massachusetts, and Bash-Bish Falls repeatedly.
In the present example, Kensett was pleasingly able to capture the beauty and contrast of rich, bright autumnal colors against the rocks with the coastal water in the background, creating a majestic scene. The Coast Near Narragansettfeatures all the highlights of Kensett’s most accomplished period. His training as an engraver is evident in the rich detail with which he depicts the rocks.
Of his untimely passing at the age of 56 the National Gallery of Art notes, “His passing…was considered virtually a national tragedy, and when the contents of his studio were auctioned in 1873, they brought more than $136,000, an astonishing sum for the period . For many of his contemporaries, Kensett had represented a kind of artistic epitome in landscape painting.”