American, 1823–1900


“The eldest of eight children, Jasper Francis Cropsey was born at Rossville, Staten Island. His family was of Dutch and Huguenot ancestry. He spent his youth working on his father’s farm and attended the local country school. In his unpublished “Reminiscences of My Own Time,” prepared for Charles E. Lester’s Artists of America in 1846, he wrote: “I was so disposed to adorn my writing book, on the margin, wherever there was a blank space, with fancy letters, boats, houses, trees, etc., and paint, or color the pictures in my books that I would undergo the reprimand of the teacher, rather than desist from it.” Cropsey’s early interest in architecture led him to construct an elaborate model of a country house, which won him a diploma at the 1837 fair of the Mechanics’ Institute of the City of New York. The model attracted the attention of the New York architect Joseph Trench (1815–1879), and Cropsey entered a five-year apprenticeship in his architectural office. After eighteen months, almost all of the firm’s finished drawings passed through Cropsey’s hands. In his fourth year he was painting the backgrounds of the architectural designs. At this time, with Trench’s encouragement, Cropsey studied watercolor painting with Edward Maury, and Englishman.

To advance his education, he obtained various treatises on painting and visited the annual exhibitions at the National Academy of Design. In December 1841 Cropsey began oil paintings based on his watercolors. His efforts were encouraged by the artists William T. Ranney (1813–1857), William Sidney Mount (1807–1868), and Henry Inman (1802–1846). Cropsey left Trench’s office in 1842 with hopes of supporting himself as an architect while continuing his landscape painting. His view of Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1844, won favorable comment from Inman and resulted in Cropsey’s election as an associate of the academy. The following year in an essay for the American Art-Union titled “Natural Art,” Cropsey summarized his views (typescript copies, MFA, Boston, and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.). As a staunch advocate of being true to nature, he professed his great admiration for the works of Thomas Cole (1801–1848), which he found the most faithful transcripts from nature, questioned Joshua Reynolds’s belief that the imitation of nature had an adverse effect on quality, and urged young painters to study nature. Like Cole and other contemporaries, however, Cropsey also produced works drawn from the imagination or inspired by literary sources.

In 1847 Jasper Francis Cropsey married and embarked on his first trip to Europe. He set up a studio in London and toured England, Scotland, and Wales. Then he went to Paris, made the usual tour through Switzerland and the lake country of northern Italy, and finally arrived in Rome. He occupied the same studio Cole had used several years earlier and soon joined a circle that included the painters Thomas Hicks (1823–1890) and Christopher P. Cranch (1813–1892) and the sculptors William Wetmore Story and Thomas Crawford. He became familiar with the works of the Nazarenes and other German artists in Rome. Their influence may have reinforced his own penchant for detail. Like Cole, Cropsey made frequent sketching trips to the Roman Campagna and other regions of Italy, such as Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, and Paestum. On the way back to the United States, he traveled through northern Italy, France, and England, including visits to Fontainebleau and Barbizon with Thomas Hicks and Winckworth Allen Gay.

Cropsey returned to the United States in 1849 and made an excursion to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He then settled in New York and shared the studio of Edwin White (1817–1877), where he painted from his European sketches and supplemented his income by teaching. One of his most prominent students was David Johnson (1827–1908). In 1851 the National Academy of Design elected Cropsey an academician. The same year he took a studio with Thomas Hicks. Although Cropsey’s interest in allegorical, historical, and literary subjects is well documented, his main concern was American scenery. Following the practice of the artists of the Hudson River School, he made frequent sketching trips to upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and in 1855, visited Michigan and Canada. Studying nature was fundamental to Cropsey’s artistic philosophy and a major theme of his essay “Up among the Clouds,” which was published in the Crayon in 1855.

In anticipation of a second trip abroad Cropsey sold all his remaining pictures at an auction in 1856. The critic Henry T. Tuckerman noted that the sale was “so remunerative as to afford the best evidence of the extent of his popularity” (Book of the Artists [1867], p. 532). In London, Cropsey took a house and studio in Kensington and soon became active in the city’s artistic and social circles. Among his acquaintances were the author John Ruskin, the director of the National Gallery Sir Charles Eastlake, John Singleton Copley’s son Lord Lyndhurst, and Daniel Huntington (1816–1906). Cropsey studied the work of John Constable (1776–1837), J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), and the Pre-Raphaelites and became familiar with contemporary English and French art. In addition to sketching and painting in the English countryside and on the Isle of Wight, Cropsey provided illustrations for books of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Moore and did a series of views of American scenery published by Gambert and Company, London. He was acclaimed not only for such autumnal landscapes as Autumn—On the Hudson River, 1860 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), but also for “rapidly making the untravelled portion of the English public familiar with the scenery of the great Western continent.” Queen Victoria appointed him to the American Commission of the 1862 International Exposition in London, and he subsequently received a medal for his services.

Although the New-York Daily Tribune (Nov. 15, 1859) reported that “His success in England is so great that he is tempted to remain there permanently,” Jasper Francis Cropsey returned to New York in 1863. To alleviate growing debts and expenses, he gave art lessons and undertook artchitectural commissions. He continued to record nature with great fidelity in large panoramic landscape and was best known for his autumn scenes. The sale of The Valley of Wyoming and Starrucca Viaduct, 1865 (destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871), brought financial security and enabled him to buy forty-five acres in Warwick, New York, in 1866. By 1869 Cropsey had completed Aladdin, an elaborate Gothic revival mansion and studio there. His other architectural work included designs for town houses in the Gothic revival style, a multi-family residence in the French Renaissance style, the passenger stations of the Gilbert Elevated Railway along Sixth Avenue in New York, and the decoration of the drill shed of the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York. By 1884 Cropsey was beset with new financial problems and was forced to give up Aladdin. The following year he moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where he designed a studio for himself (now maintained by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation).

Cropsey was an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a founder of the American Watercolor Society, and a member of the Century, Union League, and Lotos clubs. He died at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson in 1900.”

(Burke, Doreen Bolger, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. III, A Catalogue of Works by Art and Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, 1980).

Museum Collections:
Addison Gallery of Art, Andover, MA
Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY
Allen Art Museum at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY
Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Georgetown University Art Galleries, Washington, D.C.
Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
New York Historical Society, New York, NY
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, NY
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Peabody Art Collection, Baltimore, MD
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, NY
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, VT
Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS

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