The papers of landscape painter Sanford Robinson Gifford, date from the 1840s through 1900, and circa 1960s-1970s. The bulk of the papers fall between 1855-1881; material from the circa 1960s-1970s consists of photographic copy prints for which the Archives does not have the originals. The small collection measures 0.9 linear feet of scattered documentation of Gifford's life, primarily extensive biographical accounts of his travels in the mid 1850s and late 1860s in the form of bound letters to his father. These serve as detailed journals of his impressions of Europe and the Middle East, the development of his painting, and his relationships with other artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge. The collection also contains sketches by Gifford, printed material including catalogs of Gifford's paintings, and photographs of Gifford and others.
Scope and Content Note:
The collection dates from the 1840s through 1900, and circa 1960s-1970s with the bulk of the material falling between 1855-1881. Material from circa 1960s-1970s consists of photographic copy prints of original photographs from the mid to late 1800s for which the Archives does not own the originals. The papers measure 0.9 linear feet and provide detailed documentation of the life of Hudson River School landscape painter, Sanford Robinson Gifford, during the mid 1850s and late 1860s. The papers contain extensive accounts of Gifford's travels in 3 bound volumes of typewritten letters from Gifford to his father. These letters serve as travel journals and provide extensive and vivid descriptions of Gifford's work and experiences in Europe and the Middle East, and document his relationships with a variety of other artists, including Alfred Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge, during this period.
Additional records provide scattered documenation of other periods of Gifford's life. Letters refer to his travels in the American west and his Civil War service and its effect on his painting. Printed material includes clippings and exhibition catalogs, and includes a catalogue of his paintings published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1881. Artwork by Gifford includes sketches by the artist and prints, engravings and paintings by various others. Original photographs date from 1856-1900 and include images of Gifford during the Civil War. Copyprints for which the Archives does not own the originals date from the circa 1960s-1970s and include two images of a family home in Hudson, New York, where Gifford had a studio in the mid 1860s, a portrait photograph of Gifford, and an image of Gifford on the Hayden expedition.
The collection is arranged as 4 series:
Series 1: Letters, 1855-1874 (Box 1; 3 volumes, 1 folder)
Series 2: Printed Material, circa 1850s-1881 (Box 2; 4 folders)
Series 3: Artwork, circa 1840s-circa 1870s (Box 2, OV 3; 4 folders)
Series 4: Photographs and Copy Prints, 1856-circa 1900, circa 1960s-1970s (Box 2, 5, OV 4; 11 folders)
Sanford Robinson Gifford was born in Greenfield, New York, in 1823. He attended Brown University from 1842-1844 and moved to New York City in 1845 where he studied drawing, perspective and anatomy under the direction of the British watercolorist and drawing-master, John R. Smith. He also studied the human figure in anatomy classes at the Crosby Street Medical college and took drawing classes at the National Academy of Design. In 1846 he visited the Berkshire Hills and the Catskill Mountains, sketching from nature. "These studies," he wrote to O. B. Frothingham in 1874, "together with the great admiration I felt for the works of Cole developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape painters life I was unable to return to portrait painting."
The American Art Union bought and showed some of Gifford's first pictures in 1847. In 1851 he was elected an associate, and in 1854 an academician, of the National Academy of Design.
Gifford traveled widely to sketch landscapes for future paintings, recording his experiences in letters to his father which he intended would "serve the double purpose of letter and journal, and be an economy of time." He requested that his father number the letters sequentially and keep them together.
In the summer of 1855 Gifford visited England, Scotland and Paris, where he spent the winter of 1855 transforming his English and Scottish sketches into paintings. In the fall of 1856 he rented a studio in Rome and, over the course of the winter, painted pictures that reportedly pleased him "pretty well," including Lake Nemi. During the spring of 1857, Gifford spent time with fellow artists Worthington Whittredge, William H. Beard and Albert Bierstadt before leaving Rome in May with Bierstadt for a walking tour of southern Italy, where they planned to reconnect with Whittredge and Beard. Gifford ended his European tour with a visits to Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Paris, before returning to the United States at the end of the summer.
On his return Gifford rented studio Number 19 in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, which he retained until his death. Over the next few years he also made frequent summer trips to various northeastern locales including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia.
Gifford served in New York's Seventh Regiment when it marched to the defense of Washington in April 1861, and again in 1862 and 1863. Several paintings resulted from this experience, including Sunday Morning at Camp Cameron (1861), Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment at Arlington Heights, Virginia (1861) and Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863 (1864).
In 1868 Gifford returned to Europe, again visiting London and Paris, where he met with friends Jervis McEntee and his wife. He then spent the summer visiting the Alps and Sicily before wintering in Rome. In 1869 he traveled to Egypt where he and a small party hired a boat to take them on a two-month voyage from Cairo down the Nile River. Subsequently, Gifford traveled to the Middle East with Alfred Craven via the Suez Canal, where his itinerary included Syria, Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Greece and Turkey. Gifford arrived in Venice in June 1869 and sailed for the United States at the beginning of September.
In 1870 Gifford visited Colorado with Worthington Whittredge and John Frederick Kensett, and accompanied a United States Geological party under Dr. Hayden in the exploration of Wyoming, Utah, and the Colorado Territories. In the summer of 1873 he visited California, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska.
Gifford married in 1877 but in 1880 became ill and died of malarial fever and pneumonia at the age of 58. That same year he was honored with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first monographic retrospective and a memorial catalogue of his known pictures.
Five sketchbooks were loaned by Vassar College in 1966 and the originals were returned to the donor after microfilming on reel D254.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reels D254 and 688) including twenty-one sketchbooks, photographs, passports and certificates, an 1888 European travel diary of Mary Louise Willard, wife of Gifford's nephew, Harold, and a 1966 letter. Loaned materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Edith Wilkinson first donated the Sanford Robinson Gifford papers in 1955 and 1957. James C. Gifford donated copy prints of photographs in 1964. Five sketchbooks were lent for microfilming by the Vassar College Art Library in 1966 and George and Frances Gifford Cummings donated additional material in 1973. In 1974, sixteen sketchbooks, photographs, and other materials were lent for microfilming by Dr. Sanford Gifford, Gifford's great-nephew.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
The Sanford Robinson Gifford papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.