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John Frederick Kensett

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John Frederick Kensett
19th Century
American, (1816–1872)
Son of an English immigrant engraver, John Kensett lacked enthusiasm for that medium and became one of the most accomplished painters of the second generation of Hudson River School painters. His reputation is for Luminism, careful depiction of light, weather, and atmosphere as they affect color and texture of natural forms. He was particularly influenced by the painting of Asher Durand in that he focused on realism and detail rather than the highly dramatic views associated with Thomas Cole. Going to the western United States in the mid 1850s and the 1860s, he was the first of the Hudson River School painters to explore and paint the West.

He was also sought after by many organizations. Among his activities were serving on the committee to oversee the decoration of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, and becoming one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

An inveterate traveler, Kensett spent summers on painting excursions away from New York City. One of these trips was a special painting excursion with fifteen other artists sponsored by the B & O Railroad from Baltimore, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia. Unlike many of the Hudson River painters, Kensett painted coastal views, a subject he began pursuing in the 1850s. It was a subject that lent itself to his skill in depicting heightened light, color and reflection. Beginning 1854, he traveled in the West, first going up the Mississippi River and then the Missouri River in 1857, to Colorado with Worthington Whittredge in 1866, and in 1870 back to Colorado with Whittredge and Sanford Gifford.

John Frederick Kensett, who was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, was trained as an engraver by his father. He held several jobs as an engraver before moving to New York City to pursue a career in art. In his mid-20s he went to Europe with three other young men (one of them Asher Durand) and supported himself with engraving jobs for American companies. He became interested in French and English landscape paintings, and eventually gave up engraving altogether in favor of landscapes in oil. After several more trips to Europe, he returned to the States for good and gained considerable success through many exhibitions and numerous purchases of his work. He was first associated with the Hudson River painters, but in his later years was one of the most celebrated and respected Luminists.

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