Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)
Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)
Noted American landscape painter Jasper Francis Cropsey was born in Rossville, Staten Island, and discovered early on an interest in drawing and architecture. At age fourteen he received certification from the New York Mechanics Institute and the American Institute of the City of New York for his design of a house, which soon led to an apprenticeship with New York architect Joseph Trench. Trench encouraged Cropsey’s love of art and hired British artist Edward Maury to give him lessons in watercolor. In addition, Cropsey attended a few formal art classes at the National Academy of Design.Contact Vose about this artist
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In 1843, Cropsey opened his own architectural practice and began exhibiting work at the National Academy. One year later, at the age of twenty-one, he was elected an Associate of the Academy, the youngest to receive the honor, and by 1845, he had transitioned solely to landscape painting. Cropsey firmly believed that accurately rendering nature as it applies to the American landscape was the highest form of art, and his talent for doing so was espoused in an 1847 review of the National Academy exhibition: “Mr. Cropsey is one of the few among our landscape painters who go directly to Nature for their materials. For one so young in his art, his attainments are extraordinary, and it is no disparagement to the abilities of those veterans of landscape art, Cole and Durand, to prophesy, that before many years have elapsed, he will stand with them in the front rank, shoulder to before, Cropsey would travel widely throughout the east coast for his subjects, painting the picturesque scenery of the White Mountains and the Hudson River Valley, but found his favorite location at Greenwood Lake, New Jersey. He first visited the area in 1843, discovering a source of inspiration for decades to come, and it was in Greenwood Lake that he met Maria Cooley whom he married in 1847. After a two year honeymoon throughout England, France and Italy, where Cropsey befriended and sketched with fellow expatriates, the couple returned to the United States in 1849.
Back in America, Cropsey established a studio in New York and took on a handful of students, most notably David Johnson, to supplement his income. He continued his sketching trips throughout New England and New York, to Niagara Falls and Canada, while sending his work for exhibitions at the National Academy, which elected him a full member in 1851. In 1856, he and Maria returned to England and were welcomed into the literary and artistic circles of London society, counting among their acquaintances Sir Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery, and the writer John Ruskin: “[Cropsey’s] studio is often visited by Ruskin, who at first could scarcely believe the brilliant combinations in the artist’s autumnal sketches were other than exaggerations of ‘Young America;’ but…he now believes fully in the radiant truth of his trans-Atlantic studies.” Cropsey exhibited with the Royal Academy and both his American landscapes and his English scenes of the countryside and dramatic cliffs of the Dorset coast found a strong market with British collectors, but he returned to the New York by 1863 to endeavor to paint the Civil War battlefront.
Following the Civil War, Cropsey’s manner of painting developed a Luminist quality long practiced by some of his colleagues, notably John Kensett and Sanford Gifford. Unlike the traditional Luminists, however, who emphasized atmosphere over detail, Cropsey recorded the radiance of sunrise and sunset while still retaining the precise lines and truth to nature he had consistently displayed throughout his career.
In addition to the annuals at the National Academy, Cropsey exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Boston Athenaeum, and was instrumental in founding the Union League Club in New York City and the American Water Color Society. By the 1880s, as the Impressionist and Barbizon movements took prominence over the Hudson River School tradition, Cropsey’s popularity lapsed and he focused on his architecture to support his family. In 1885, the Cropseys moved to a new home at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where he designed a studio addition befitting his classical tastes. He continued to paint, turning toward watercolor during the last fifteen years of his life, before passing away at the age of 77 in 1900. As the environmental movement of the 1960s took hold, and Americans became more concerned about the destruction of the natural world, the classic, pristine American landscapes of Cropsey and his fellow Hudson River School painters returned to prominence, and today examples of his work can be found in almost every major museum collection, including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the National Gallery.
References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1999; Talbot, William S.(essay), Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970); American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987): 200-213; “Jasper Francis Cropsey, Painter of Autumn,” by Gertrude Dahlberg, American Art & Antiques, November-December, 1979.
 “Foreign Art Items,” Cosmopolitan Art Journal 2 (1858), p. 144, as quoted in American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, Cropsey essay by Carrie Rebora (Barrett), pp. 206-207.