John Edward Costigan gained prominence as the "American Millet" for his pastoral images. In 1903 he moved to New York, where he was hired by the H. C. Miner Lithographing Company. Costigan was to remain with the company for twenty-eight years, supporting his family and his own painting activities by his designs of theatrical posters. His art training was brief, consisting of a short stay at the Art Students League in 1906 and attendance at the unsupervised life classes at the Kit-Kat Club. He exhibited publicly for the first time in 1915 and became a frequent exhibitor at all the major annuals throughout the country, winning many awards during the 1920s, the high point of his career. In 1924 he was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design and in 1928 was accorded full membership. His first solo exhibition in 1924 at the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York received favorable critical reviews. Having lost his job during the depression, he joined the Public Works of Art Project. In 1945 he returned to commercial art, illustrating McCall’s Bluebook magazine for five years.
In 1919 Costigan married and moved to a farm in Orangeburg, New York, a rural community in Rockland County near New York City. His farm, livestock, and family would serve as his constant subjects for the rest of his life. The nature of his pastoral images changed only slightly over the years. In the 1920s he often painted scenes of his family enjoying nature in a forested area. In the 1930s Costigan presented his family in more open views, often actively working the land. The etchings and lithographs produced during the 1930s were allied with the then-popular school of social realism. Costigan also became known for his prints and watercolors.
Ralph Flint, "Costigan, American Pastoralist," International Studio 80 (March 1925): 426-32 § Ivan Narodny, "John E. Costigan," in American Artists, Essay Index Reprint Series (1930; reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), pp. 13-22 § Ernest W. Watson, "John Costigan: The Millet of American Painting," American Artist 13 (October 1949): 27-29, 64 § Oshkosh, Wis., Paine Art Center and Arboretum, and others, circulated by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, John E. Costigan: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1968, with essay by Richard N. Gregg, chronology, lists of awards and public collections.