JASPER F. CROPSEY
Sailing (The Hudson at Tappan Zee), 1883
Oil on canvas, 14 X 24" (35.56 x 60.96 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Museum purchase, 946-0-104
Jasper F Cropsey had painted the Hudson River since the 1850s. His Autumn-On the Hudson River (1860, National Gallery of Art) was a sensational success in London, where he lived from 1856 to 1863. It is a very large panoramic painting with such bright autumnal foliage that the painter, in order to convince his audience of the veracity of his colors, exhibited with it some genuine autumn leaves from America. After returning to America in 1863, Cropsey pursued a highly successful career painting the landscape of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the White Mountains with occasional views of the Hudson in oil or, with growing frequency, watercolor. In 1869, his ambition and reputation prompted him to design and build Aladdin, a twenty-nine room Victorian mansion high on a hill in Warwick, New York. During the 1870s, Cropsey did not paint the Hudson as frequently as he did European subjects, panoramic views of other American valleys, mountains and lake scenes, often done with great sensitivity to water reflections and the effects of moist atmosphere. Although he exhibited three pictures in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, one of which, The Old Mill (1876, The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.), set in the blazing colors of autumn, not only received favorable notice but reproductions of which remain popular today, Cropsey's fortunes had passed their peak. Debts incurred building Aladdin, the acquisition of property in New York City, other debts surviving from England, and reduced painting production due to the artist's preoccupation with building and illness finally led to such dire financial straits that Aladdin had to be sold in 1884. The Cropseys moved to Hastings - on-Hudson, New York and into a house with a view of the river which appeared frequently in his later work.
A close examination of Sailing reveals that it is dated 1883, not 1888 as previously thought. It was thus painted when Cropsey's fortunes were at their lowest ebb, just before the mortgage sale of Aladdin. The view takes in part of the Tappan Zee, where the Hudson widens above Hastings at Tarrytown. Cropsey's frequent panoramic breadth is narrowed here by the foreground trees which flank the distant view across the river to the highlands on the west bank. Trees and brush are animated not only by bright colors but also by the vigorous lines of the drawing, which are clearly visible through the thin paint. These sketchy strokes, many of which are not part of the final design, give a somewhat unfinished, rough vitality to the work. Instead of the smoother, more finished surfaces and rounder forms of earlier pictures, one finds in the later oils flatter shapes and rougher surfaces closely related to Cropsey's increasing activity in watercolor, with its flat color areas and visible texture. Beyond the vigorous foreground and beneath a sky made more dramatic by the thickly painted pink and yellow clouds, commerce moves along the river under steam and sail. It is an autumn image by the American who is still master of that season.
WILLIAM S. TALBOT