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    JOHN FREDERICK KENSETT (American 1816 - 1872)
    Scene near Greeley, Colorado, circa 1870-72
    Oil on canvas
    36 x 60in.

    Private Collection, New York;
    Kennedy Galleries, Inc, New York (label verso);
    Private Collection

    Museum of Nebraska Art, University of Nebraska, Kearney, Summer 2001.

    Ron Roth, "Where the Plains Meet the Mountains," former director of the Museum of Nebraska Art, Moments on Nebraska Public Radio, 2001,

    This majestic view of a clearing near Greeley, Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains in the background is a late work by John Frederick Kensett, the most influential member of the second generation Hudson River School painters. He was also the most poetic of these nineteenth-century landscapists who sought to celebrate the American landscape in its infinite variety. Their efforts found an enthusiastic audience, particularly among the emerging middle class which had more leisure time to enjoy art and venture into nature, as well as more capital to buy pictures.

    In contrast to the work of his contemporaries, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic E. Church, Kensett's paintings are distinguished, in the words of Diana Strazdes, "by an enduring modesty." He earned great praise for his sensitivity to modest views of nature and his fidelity to its most minute detail. He generally avoided painting Nature at her most cataclysmic and theatrical, even when his choice of subject was monumental, as in the present work. Rather then creating skies that blistered with aniline-colored sunsets, Kensett chose a more tranquil luminescence. In the present sunrise scene, a soft, diffused light blankets the early morning sky, quietly backlighting a forest clearing where a leafy elm, reaches gracefully upwards with its distinctively arched limbs. Its leaves are just beginning to turn, a subtle hint along with a few touches of red in the distant hillside that summer is drawing to a close.

    As one writer noted of this work, Kensett chose not to feature the craggy Rockies as the primary subject. Rather, he chose to show them in the atmospheric distance of the low-lying plains of the Platte Valley, behind the scraggly grasses, rocky outcroppings and a scattering of flowers. Kensett painted this canvas around 1870, during the last of his three trips to the west. It is much more characteristic of his approach to the grandeur of nature than a much smaller canvas from the same period entitled Storm, Western Colorado (1870) in the Toledo Museum of Art, with its brighter palette and focus on the ferocity of a mountain storm.

    The mood of Kensett's landscape paintings had a profound effect on audiences. A contemporary critic commented that they called back "the very countenance of a departed friend, expressing infinite peace and infinite sweetness. They rebuked all morbid thoughts." They were, "poems of our common lot, blessings in our daily path." In fact, Kensett's style of painting became inextricably bound up with similar qualities in his personal character. "His pictures," wrote George Curtis, "are biographical, for they all reveal the fidelity, the tenderness, and the sweet serenity of his nature .... He made sunshine that softened and harmonized all." Indeed, the excellence of his paintings, their soothing qualities, and the artist's own genial temperament were a heady combination for professional success. Even his tragic death from pneumonia, which resulted from his having tried to rescue the wife of one of his friends from icy waters, was one more illustration of the artist's kindness, a quality many equated with the gentle light in his pictures. This painting can be directly linked to an almost identical composition by Kensett that is documented in a posthumous exhibition of his work held at the National Academy of Design, just prior to a sale of the pictures on March 24, 1873 at Association Hall, New York. Smaller in scale than the present work, this related picture is recorded in installation photographs of the exhibition, and is visibly the largest work on the wall. (See Robert Sommerville, The Collection of over five hundred paintings and studies by the late John f. Kensett, 24 March, 1873, [auction catalogue] New York, Association Hall, 1873, plates 32 and 34.) Judging from the catalogue of that exhibition, which lists all the exhibited works together with their measurements, a painting entitled Valley of Valmont measuring 33 x 44 inches was the largest work in the sale. This is probably the smaller version of the present picture.

    This major late work by John F. Kensett is unpublished apart from the online literature cited at the beginning of this entry. To date there has not yet been a catalogue raisonné published on the artist.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2006
    9th-10th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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