John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)

John Frederick Kensett, a leading member of the second generation of Hudson River School painters and noted practitioner of the Luminist style of 19th century American landscape and marine painting, was born in Cheshire, Connecticut in 1816, the son of an English immigrant engraver. Kensett received training in engraving from his father and worked as an engraver from about 1828 to 1845. At the age of twenty-four Kensett traveled to Europe where he worked on engravings, copying masterworks in the Louvre, and making sketching trips in France, England, and Italy. He met Thomas Cole in Paris, and took a walking tour with Benjamin Champney up the Rhine, through Switzerland, and into Italy. At the end of 1847 the artist returned to America and set up a studio in the New York University Building. He spent many summers painting in the mountains of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine, with artist friends such as Casilear, Champney, and Church. He also painted in Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia, on the Great Lakes, and at Niagara Falls, often with his friend and life-long roommate, Louis Lang. He traveled with fellow-painters such as Sanford Gifford and Worthington Whittredge up the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and to Montana and Colorado to broaden his repertoire of landscape subject matter.
In 1856, 1861, possibly 1865, and 1867 he traveled again through Great Britain, France, and Italy. Kensett first came to Newport, Rhode Island in 1854 and continued to visit the Narragansett Bay region throughout his life. His arrival in Newport marked a dramatic transformation in his work. He moved away from the woodland scenes and images of the Hudson River which dominated his early career and became entranced by the sublime coastal views of New England, predominantly Rhode Island. Many of the artist’s finest and most sought-after paintings were executed along the Newport shore. Kensett was a member of the National Academy of Design; the Century Association; the Sketch Club; was appointed to the U.S. Capitol Art Commission in 1859; was founder and president of the Artists’ Fund Society; was chairman of the Art Committee of the Sanitary Fair of 1865; and was a founder and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Kensett died at the age of fifty-six from pneumonia, contracted when he attempted to save the wife of painter Vincent Colyer from drowning.

Beacon Rock

by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)

Medium DetailOil on board
Dimensions4 5/8 x 8 7/8 inches
Signed LocationSigned with monogram and dated, lower right
Date Created1863
Art Exhibition at the Metropolitan Fair in Aid of the U.S. Sanitary Commission,
New York, 1863;
William Vareika Fine Arts, Newport, RI, “A Precious Muse: Art of the Narragansett Bay Then and Now (An Exhibition to Benefit Save The Bay),” July 21 - September 9, 2007

Beacon Rock is a well-known natural site in Newport Harbor. It was painted many times by Kensett over an eighteen year period and is one of the more memorable images of his important career.

The diminutive painting was Kensett’s contribution to the 1863 United States Sanitary Commission Fair Art Exhibition, of which he was chairman. It was sold along with works by other artists to raise funds to support the humanitarian activities of the commission, the forerunner of the American Red Cross.

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