Fire Island Beach
signed, dated and inscribed with title 'S R Gifford 1878' (on the reverse of frame)
oil on canvas
13 1/2 x 27 1/2 in. (34.3 x 69.9 cm.)
Artist or Maker
Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880)
(Possibly) New York, National Academy of Design, 1877, no. 577.
New York, Grand Central Art Galleries and elsewhere, Long Island Landscape Painting 1820-1920, September 13, 1985-April 6, 1986.
Atlanta, Georgia, The High Museum of Art, Georgia Collects, January 24-March 26, 1989.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, October 7, 2003-September 26, 2004.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gifford Memorial Catalogue, New York, 1881, no. 689.
Berry-Hill Galleries, American Paintings III, New York, 1985, p. 27, illustrated.
R.G. Pisano, Long Island Landscape Painting, 1820-1920, Boston, Massachusetts, 1985, p. 67, illustrated.
I. Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford, Newark, Delaware, 1987, pp. 148, 154, pl. 31, illustrated.
K.J. Avery and F. Kelly, ed., Hudson River School Visions: Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2003, pp. 222-5, illustrated.
Horatio Hathaway, New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York.
James Maroney, Inc., New York.
Private collection, Atlanta, Georgia.
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York.
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PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTION
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 inspired use of light to convey emotion, are among the boldest conceived of the period. The present work, Fire Island Beach, is a masterful example of the artist's conception of Luminism and specifically his preoccupation with light and atmosphere.
During the late 1850s, Gifford began visiting the seashore of New York and New Jersey and during the following years in the late 1860s and 1870s he produced notes and sketches from trips along the coast of Maine and Long Island. Sketchbooks dating from the period of 1873 to 1879 reveal evidence of drawings of hunters with rifles and shotguns that appear to specifically relate to the figures found in the present work. The thoughtful composition of Fire Island Beach is evidenced by these quick yet careful studies Gifford rendered with great care, as well as a smaller oil study the artist completed of the same title. The smaller work, measuring 7 1/4 by 14 inches (Private collection, New York) shows three figures set against a similarly dramatic landscape.
As noted by Kevin Avery, "Fire Island Beach reportedly was finished in June 1878. However, the year before, a Fire Island Beach by Gifford was offered for sale at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition, where it was admired, along with the marines of William Trost Richards, precisely for the understated beauty that marks the present picture: '...the profoundly luminous color and light, the warmth and harmony of the tints, the wide and far-reaching perspective, the distant sails gleaming in the sunshine, the hot stretch of sandy beach, and the rolling of the billows, present a view which fascinates the thoughtful spectator. Here is much more than what is ordinarily called marine painting. Scarcely an excellence of a landscape is not in it as well; but there is nothing vulgar, or overwrought, or "loud"--except, indeed, the loudness of the much resounding sea... [Gifford and Richards] are the only American artists that we know of who seem to feel strong enough to paint an undecorated and unadventurous sea. They will take the simplest scene and make it attractive, first, by brilliancy of technical execution, and, secondly, by an ideal reproduction of the scene through the imagination.' Except for the lack of reference to any figures, the description of the 1877 picture sounds much like the one discussed here." (Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2003, p. 224)
The present work demonstrates Gifford's use of one point perspective which supplies the work with an unrivaled drama as sea and sky appear to merge on a sand bar that fades into the expansive horizon. Compared to the smaller oil sketch, Gifford has discreetly placed a fourth figure in this scene at right in the distance, to futher underscore the striking spatial recession. Faint sails appear to move quietly along the left stretch of horizon, under a sky that is diffused with a soft yellow light that recalls a late afternoon summer day. The only elements that seem to balance this calm scene are the evenly curled waves crashing at left and the billowing clouds that float through the sky and subtly blend into the middleground.
"With luminism the artist's transition was completed: from an appreciation of landscape to a realization, through the intermediary of art, of the harmony inherent in nature. The commitment to the facts of the view and the truth of nature together with a knowledge of artistic principles led to the creation of paintings that seemed to compose themselves. The artist's educated and intuitive eye selected scenes that were naturally ordered and directed the subtle rearrangement and introduction of accents that convey that order to others. Above all, it is through the most orthodox luminist works, the quiet, understated paintings, that the artist makes the viewer aware of his own depth of feeling. He reveals the poetry in nature as inevitable, self-evident, and ever present." (L.F. Andrus, "Design and Measurment in Luminist Art," American Light, The Luminist Movement: 1850-1875, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1980, p. 55)