Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816-1872)
North American
oil on canvas, in the original frame
Overall: 35 in x 29 1/4 in; 88.9 cm x 74.295 cm
The Old Print Shop, New York, New York; to Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Sale 848, March 15, 1947, Lot 517; to Arthur D'Espies, of Short Hills, New Jersey; to Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, Sale 3978, April 16-20, 1977, Lot 16; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Signed in monogram and dated at the lower right, "J.F.K. 53."; with framer's label, "Tracy & Newkerk, 124 Grand Street, New York"
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Bryan
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Object Essay

Often during the 1850s, Kensett’s annual summer sketching trips took him to the Adirondacks, where he must have made the sketches that he used for this splendid painting. Although the site has not been identified, it anticipates the well-known Bash Bish Falls of 1855 at the National Academy of Design and is particularly close to A Woodland Waterfall at the Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, which has been dated about 1855, but could be contemporary with the Department of State’s picture.1See Driscoll and Howat, 80, pl. 10, and 84, pl. 11. Adirondack Scenery, 80, pl. 9, is also related. The authenticity of the monogram and date has been questioned. Under ultraviolet light, the inscription appears to be on top of the varnish layer and the varnish would not seem to be original; however, it is in Kensett’s style, and the date, as has been observed, is appropriate. It is possible that it is superimposed upon a damaged original inscription or replaces one lost but known to the inscriber. The framer was at the address on the label only from 1850 to 1852, which supports the approximate, if not exact, date of the inscription (Katlan, 247).

“Using his small brushes like chisels,” in John K. Howat’s apt simile, Kensett methodically evolved his forms and at the same time created a textured, scintillating paint surface.2Howat, 42.

These dense but vivid woodland scenes, similar in style to those of his friend Asher B. Durand (See Acc. No. 74.49), were frequent in Kensett’s work during the early 1850s. Both men had been influenced by the French Barbizon School of landscape artists working in the forest of Fontainebleau, but Durand was inclined to depict his American forest in a generic or an imagined vein. In contrast, Kensett’s paintings of woodland interiors are distinguished by an assiduous, unexaggerated realism. He developed his craft at a measured pace, giving his attention to the facts of the landscape. From such close study came an understanding of the energetic flux of nature and, too, the broad forms and lucid structure that came increasingly to characterize his art.

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.