Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900) is known as “America’s painter of autumn” and his interest in the passage of time is evident in his landscapes of particular seasons. A practicing artist and architect, Cropsey was known as a painter of the Hudson River School. A love of nature led Cropsey to depict the outdoors as accurately, and in as much detail as possible. He admired the work of Thomas Cole and other American painters who felt that landscape painting was the highest art form, with a great spirituality inherent in the beauty of scenery. Many of these artists not only felt that nature was inseparable from religion, but that our country’s unique scenery - mountains, forests, and waterfalls, showed aspects of America that could shape our young nation’s identity.
Cropsey visited Europe and upon his return traveled in America, visiting the Hudson Valley, Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Niagara Falls. Although he worked mainly on American landscapes and scenes from his European journey, he also painted literary and allegorical scenes.
In the mid 1850s, Cropsey auctioned all of his work to finance a second trip to Europe. The English were most impressed with Cropsey’s views of American autumn, and with his bold use of red and orange colors. After returning to America amidst the turmoil of the Civil War, Cropsey taught painting and took architectural commissions.
Cropsey died in 1900 at age 77. Over the course of his lifetime, the art world had changed so much that he died in near anonymity.
Winter Landscape, North Conway, NH, 1859
Winter Landscape, North Conway, NH is a view near North Conway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Looking south toward Moat Mountain and the prominent slopes and cliffs known as Cathedral and White Horse Ledges, the viewer takes in a view of snow-covered meadows and forests. In the foreground, a man dressed in warm clothes makes his way toward a rustic bridge. Behind him and to the right one can make out the forms of a small house and barn. This painting is one of Cropsey’s rare winter scenes, and his great attention to color can be seen in the hues of white, pink and blue that he uses to describe the effects of late afternoon sunlight and shadow on the snow.
In Winter Landscape, the orderly composition and picturesque vignettes of farm, bridge and figure highlight the fact that Cropsey painted this work from imagination while living in England. The artist had already gained favorable notice at the Royal Academy with an earlier White Mountain view (An Indian Summer Morning in the White Mountains) and in light of his success, he may have planned a complementary scene of the same region in winter. The painting is small, and if Cropsey completed a larger version, it was not exhibited. The artist nevertheless continued to depict White Mountain subjects while in England.
Indian Summer Morning in the White Mountains, 1857
In this painting, a vast panorama of wilderness unfolds before our eyes. The stone peak of Mt. Chocorua towers above a stream that winds down a steep valley and into the pool at the center foreground. Wisps of mist touch the mountaintop and fill the hollows. The low silvery morning sun illuminates the textures of stone and leaf. One can interpret the rays of light as God’s benediction on this new land. There is no indication of the presence of man. Two deer drink at the stream from the right bank; another pair of deer rest on the left bank. Cropsey transforms the rugged New England landscape into a Garden of Eden, the Promised Land that the young American nation often symbolized.
Painted at the beginning of Cropsey’s stay in England, Indian Summer Morning in the White Mountains was one of the first large-scale dramatic views of the American wilderness presented to a foreign audience. The painting was based on a combination of sketches of different scenes and earlier visits to the White Mountains. At the time of these visits, the White Mountain region was experiencing a major increase in visitors and industry, a result of the introduction of railway access. Rather than incorporating these changes to the region, Cropsey painted an unpopulated scene of jagged rocks and swirling mists, giving his European audience what they demanded – an image that reflected an unspoiled view of the American wilderness.
Landscape paintings such as these often played a role in promoting tourism, as foreigners were curious about the images they were seeing. Today New Hampshire still boasts a strong tourist economy with tourists and the tourism industry generating about three billion dollars annually.¹
Indian Summer Morning in the White Mountains was the first painting Cropsey exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy in London, England. In the Royal Academy catalogue, a quotation from the long narrative poem Evangeline by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) accompanied the entry for the painting:
Filled was the air with a dreamy and Magical light.; *****and the great sun Looked, with the eye of love, through the golden Vapours around him. While arrayed in its robes of russet and scarlet and yellow, Bright with the sheen of the dew, each glittering Tree of the forest.
The poet’s visionary words perfectly matched the artist’s intentions about what a landscape painting should be.
1 Kathleen Thompson, New Hampshire, Steck-Vaughn Portrait of America, p. 28
|Jasper Francis Cropsey, An Indian Summer Morning in the White Mountains, 1857
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