Lake Wawayanda, 1876
Signed and dated, lower right: J. F. Cropsey 1876
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 1/4 in. (30.5 x 51.3 cm )
Gift of Charles F. Olney, 1904
In its glorification of the American autumn and in its overall luminist qualities, Lake Wawayanda is a quintessential example of Jasper Cropsey's mature style. The measured horizontal space, smooth facture, delicate tonalities, and cool, glowing light evoke the silence and tranquility characteristic of luminist landscapes.
Lake Wawayanda is in Vernon Township, New Jersey, just south of the border with New York. It lies several miles west of Greenwood Lake, another site that Cropsey painted. Cropsey began his artistic association with these lakes in 1843, and continued to visit the area often; in 1869 he built a house nearby, in Warwick, New York, and settled there until 1885. His house and its natural environs became a sustained and peaceful retreat from the market and exhibition pressures of New York City, where he spent the winters. The area held profound associations for him, as evidenced by the at least thirteen paintings he made of the two lakes. 1
The sense of serenity and contentment so evident in Oberlin's Lake Wawayanda may reflect positive events occurring in Cropsey's life during 1876. Not only did he exhibit three paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia that year, but he was also--in his capacity as architect--chosen to design the stairways, waiting rooms, and platforms for the Sixth Avenue Elevated in New York City.
The mood of the painting may also reflect a more general celebratory mood stemming from the nation's centennial activities. Populated by only a single animal swimming in the middle distance, Lake Wawayanda proclaims the spiritual beauty of the American eastern wilderness. Cropsey's vision is a romanticized one: by 1876, the eastern states were wilderness much more in myth than in reality, but the nation, still committed to the concept of Manifest Destiny, remained willing to believe in the divinity of its landscape.
Cropsey was somewhat of an artistic chameleon, using the techniques and compositions of his American contemporaries as springboards for his own stylistic changes. His works of the 1840s and '50s have a distinctive affinity with the work of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), while works of the 1860s are more reminiscent of the work of Frederic E. Church. The 1870s were stylistically inconsistent years for Cropsey, as can be readily seen by comparing the two paintings by the artist at Oberlin, Lake Wawayanda and Temple of the Sibyl, Tivoli (AMAM inv. 04.1116), both dated 1876. The latter shows the influence of works by Cole, while the former evinces the work of John Frederick Kensett and Sanford R. Gifford (1823-1880).
Several of Cropsey's most distinctive works of the 1870s are exceptionally luminous. One of these, the Lake Wawayanda at Amherst College, is an earlier version of the Oberlin painting. 2 While gossamer atmospheric effects suffuse all of Cropsey's luminist works of this period, only the Oberlin and the Amherst paintings are devoid of such picturesque elements as humans or foreground cows. During the 1880s and ‘90s, Cropsey turned increasingly to relatively high-keyed watercolors, in which he seemed to not only reconcile the various styles he had explored in earlier decades but also produced a freer style that was more genuinely his own.
Cropsey was one of the best-known painters of the second-generation Hudson River School, and his paintings were highly regarded by both American and English artists and critics during his lifetime. 3 Although his work may not be the most innovative, it is a supremely representative example of luminist painting, and--especially during the 1860s and ‘70s--Cropsey was the painter par excellence of the American autumn.
Born on Staten Island, New York, on 18 February 1823, Cropsey was apprenticed to the New York architect Joseph Trench from 1837 to 1842. During this time, he also studied watercolor painting with the English artist Edward Maury, and received encouragement for his oil painting from three prominent American artists, Henry Inman (1801-1846), William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), and William T. Ranney (1813-1857). In 1843, Cropsey began his own architectural practice in New York, exhibited his first oil painting at the National Academy of Design, and visited Greenwood Lake and Lake Wawayanda for the first time. He was elected an associate of the Academy in 1844, and a full member in 1851. Cropsey spent the winters working in his studio and, except for several extended European visits (1844-49, to England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, and Italy; 1856-63, to England), spent summers traveling and sketching in New England, New York State, and New Jersey. In 1847 he married Maria Cooley of West Milford, New Jersey. In 1869 he completed construction on his home, "Aladdin," in Warwick, New York, just north of Greenwood Lake, spending the warmer months there through 1884. In 1885 he bought a house in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and lived there until his death on 22 June 1900.
Besides his long-term association with the National Academy, Cropsey was elected an honorary professional member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1854, was elected to the Artists' Fund Society in 1864, and helped found the American Water Color Society in 1867. He was a regular exhibitor at the National Academy and the Water Color Society, and three of his paintings were included in the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. He was made a fellow of the London Society of Science, Literature and Art in 1892. Although Cropsey was in London during the early years of the Civil War, he was a sympathetic and active supporter of the Union cause, and in 1864, he donated paintings to Sanitary Fairs in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and New York, which raised funds to support the Union Army's medical services.
Cropsey practiced intermittently as an architect (1837-42, 1843-ca.1846, and from 1863 onwards) and painted at least one still life and several portraits, but he was best known for his colorful autumnal landscapes.
Tuckerman, Henry T. Book of the Artists: American Artistic Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists. New York, 1867, pp. 532–40.
Bermingham, Peter. Jasper F. Cropsey, 1823–1900: A Retrospective View of America's Painter of Autumn. College Park, Md., 1968.
Talbot, William Silas. Jasper F. Cropsey 1823–1900. New York, 1977.
Acquired by Charles F. Olney, Cleveland (before 1887)
Bequeathed by him to the museum in 1904
Cleveland, Hickox Block, 1894. Catalogue of the Cleveland Art Loan Exhibition. January. Cat. no. 29 (as "Lake Wawayandah, lent by Prof. Charles F. Olney").
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin College, 1946. American Artists Discover America. February. Cat. no. 15.
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art, 1992. A Nation's Legacy: 150 Years of American Art from Ohio Collections. 19 January - 15 March. Cat. no. 6 (also shown at Tôkyô, Isetan Museum; Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art; Fukushima Cultural Center; Takamatsu Municipal Museum of Art; and Osaka, Umeda Diamura Museum).
Catalogue of the Cleveland Art Loan Exhibition. Exh. checklist, Hickox Block, Cleveland, 1894. Cat. no. 29.
King, Hazel B. American Artists Discover America. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1946; published in Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 3, no. 1 (February 1946), cat. no. 15, pp. 10 and 17 (as "Lake Wawayanda in the Autumn").
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 42, fig. 174.
Talbot, William Silas. "Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900." Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1972, p. 452.
Talbot, William Silas. Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900. New York, 1977, p. 452.
Groseclose, Barbara, William S. Talbot, et al. A Nation's Legacy: 150 Years of American Art from Ohio Collections. Exh. cat., Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, 1992, pp. 31 (ill. no. 6) and 174.
The painting is generally sound and in excellent structural condition. The primary support is a tightly woven, fine tabby linen on the original stretcher, with original tacking edges intact. The painting was surface cleaned in 1978. The off-white ground shows through the thin paint in certain areas. The paint itself has been applied directly (alla prima); colors are worked wet-in-wet. Distinct diagonal brushstrokes are visible in the sky, while the water shows a vertical pattern. The rocks and trees are more thickly painted. The paint layer is sound, with some old losses on the red tree, which are now filled and inpainted.
1. Ranging in date from 1844 to 1897, these works are catalogued and discussed by William Silas Talbot, in "Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900 " (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1972) and idem, Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900 (New York, 1977). To these works can be added an 1870 painting in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, apparently unknown to Talbot; see Kenneth W. Maddox in Barbara Novak, Elizabeth Garrity Ellis et al., Nineteenth-Century American Paintings: The Thyssen Bornemisza Collection (New York, 1988), pp. 78-81.
2. Oil on canvas, 30.5 x 50.8 cm, signed and dated 1874; Amherst, Mass., Mead Art Gallery, Amherst College, inv. 1958.47.
3. See Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artistic Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists (New York, 1867), pp. 532-40; William Silas Talbot, "Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1972), and idem, Jasper F. Cropsey 1823-1900 (New York, 1977), both passim.