John Frederick Kensett

May 26, 2010

I caught a glimpse of this mountain landscape in a booklet yesterday and thought it was a photo. This is probably because it was shown in a tiny, black and white reproduction. I usually consider the comment, “That painting looks just like a photo,” to be an indication that the commenter doesn’t enjoy painting for any other purpose than verisimilitude. But my thought as I was leafing quickly through the booklet was, “Wow. What a sense of mystery and space. I rarely see photos like that.”

I mention this because it hints that strongly representational painting can still have something to say to modern sensibilities, and without overdoing the irony. Here is a Metropolitan Museum link to more of Kensett’s paintings. The details are distinctly 19th century American, but if you look at many of the paintings in the thumbnail versions, you get the same sense of photographic space that I saw in the glimpse.

Lake George, 1869
John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816–1872)
Oil on canvas
44 1/8 x 66 3/8 in. (112.1 x 168.6 cm)
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.61)
Source: John Frederick Kensett: Lake George (15.30.61) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art