October in the Catskills

* Nearly 20,000 images of artworks the museum believes to be in the public domain are available to download on this site. Other images may be protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. By using any of these images you agree to LACMA's Terms of Use.

October in the Catskills

United States, 1880
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 36 5/16 × 29 3/16 in. (92.23 × 74.14 cm) Frame: 50 1/2 × 43 1/4 × 6 1/2 in. (128.27 × 109.86 × 16.51 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Douglas Pardee, Mr. and Mrs. John McGreevey, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker (M.77.141)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In his address given at the memorial for Sanford Gifford, Worthington Whittredge said that no autumn came that Gifford did not visit his mother in the town of Hudson and the nearby Catskills....
In his address given at the memorial for Sanford Gifford, Worthington Whittredge said that no autumn came that Gifford did not visit his mother in the town of Hudson and the nearby Catskills. He loved the mountains and painted them more than any other subject. The motif of this painting is the Kaaterskill, or Kauterskill, Clove, a scenic gorge of the small Kaaterskill Creek that extends about five miles between Haines Falls village and Palenville. It was a theme for numerous Hudson River school artists, and Gifford sketched there as early as 1845 and exhibited a painting of the clove. From this direct study, possibly together with others, he completed both the wellknown Kauterskill Clove, 1862 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and the museum’s painting October in the Catskills, eighteen years later. The artist was known for repeating favorite subjects with slight refinements. The true subject of the painting is the lighted atmosphere that fills a great natural bowl, as in some of his other paintings. "With Mr. Gifford, landscape, painting is air-painting," wrote George Sheldon in 1879 (American Painters [New York: D. Appleton], p. 17). By sacrificing distant detail to the palpable, shimmering atmosphere, as in the museum’s painting, Gifford achieved a poetic interpretation of impressions that the motif and nature in general had made on him. In this spirit he freely arranged and modified elements in his finished paintings, which were studio creations. A comparison with the Metropolitan Museum’s Kauterskill Clove shows how Gifford marshaled his materials in October in the Catskills for an entirely different effect and feeling. The vantage point is higher, eliminating the view of the lake but increasing awareness of the plain and mountains stretching into the distance. The artist has also moved the trees and rocks on the left from the near foreground to the immediate foreground. The combined effect of these changes is to substitute, for the gentle progression into the distance in the Metropolitan Museum’s painting, a dramatic leap from a bulky, immediate foreground almost directly into the uninhabited far distance. This was a device often used by ALBERT BIERSTADT to enhance an impression of overwhelming distance. Also different is the quality of light in the two paintings. Kauterskill Clove is bathed in a delicate combination of yellows and blues, whereas the light in October in the Catskills is described by much hotter yellows and reds, emanating from a visible sun that seems to ignite the foreground foliage. Gifford has rearranged the ridges of the clove in a more regular arrangement that seems to center upon the sun. The sun is a potent force in the painting, appearing to dissolve the distant mountains into something like the vortices that swirl within the landscapes of J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). The distance is defined entirely in terms of the action of the sun, reflecting in the waterfall and tiny distant houses. The overall impression is that of a powerful force in a vast primeval wilderness. A very similar painting of the same subject, dimensions, and date, but with the foreground rocks and trees reversed on the right side of the canvas, appeared on the art market in New York (see Related Works). It cannot be determined whether the provenance and early citations in the 1881 Memorial Catalogue refer to the museum’s painting or this other one.
More...

About The Era

Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity....
Until 1893, when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the western frontier closed, the nation had perceived itself as an ever-expanding geographical entity. The frontier moved westward as the forests of the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Alleghenys of the eastern seaboard were cleared and inhabited. Euro-American settlers pushed across the continent, through the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, until they reached the Pacific Ocean. Although the actual travels of explorers, government surveyors, and settlers can be traced through the changing locales in landscape paintings, such depictions were to a certain extent idealizations. In the romantic-realist tradition of the Hudson River school, artists emphasized the primitive character of the wilderness and presented the newly cultivated farmlands as agrarian oases divinely blessed by rainbows and golden mists.
Artists and writers promoted nature as a national treasure. However, the wealth of the land was measured in commercial as well as aesthetic terms. Railroads and axes appear in paintings as symbols of civilization, yet they also were instruments of destruction.
According to some, the nation was preordained by God to span the continent from coast to coast. In 1845 the editor John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” referring to the country’s duty to annex western territories and exploit their resources. The same railroad tycoons and land developers who promoted such a policy also commissioned artists to paint epic scenes of the American landscape. Manifest Destiny ignored the rights of Native Americans, who had inhabited the region long before European settlers arrived. Consequently, it is not surprising that Native Americans are absent from, or stereotyped in, most of the painted views of the land they called their home. The West seen in most nineteenth-century paintings was largely one of the imagination.
More...

Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 During the mid-19th century light became a transcendent force in the American imagination. Sanford Gifford and other painters transformed a basically realist Hudson River school-style of landscape painting into a more romantic idiom. Nature and the spiritual world became one, as a soft, almost palpable atmosphere pervaded their scenes. In October in the Catskills, Gifford presents a dramatic view from a cliff near the town of Hudson in upstate New York, where his mother lived. Although the East was well populated by 1880, Gifford chose to depict a locale devoid of human presence. Yet he did not present the wilderness as a forbidding experience, but as one of awesome grandeur. The blinding sun casts the entire scene in beautiful golds and oranges and draws the viewer’s attention to the center of the painting. Here the distant mountains are enveloped in haze. This wilderness is not the unknown frontier, far away in the West, but a spiritual ground where mankind can quietly commune with God. The frame dates from the 1870s, when a growing elegance in framemaking reflected the increasing postwar cosmopolitanism of upper class Americans. The popular cove profile of earlier frames has been deepened and decorated with a dense, continuous pattern of acanthus leaves. Bronze was added to the gilding in the 1980s to approximate the warm tones of the painting.
More...

Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Greenhalgh, Adam.  "'Darkness Visible': A Twilight in the Catskills by Sanford Robinson Gifford".  The American Art Journal XXXII (1 & 2): pp. 45-76 (2001).
  • Sayre, Henry M.  A World of Art, 3rd edition.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • Barringer, Tim and Wilton, Andrew.  American Sublime.  London: Tate Publishing, 2002.
  • Sayre, Henry M.  A World of Art, 4th edition.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
More...