Jasper Francis Cropsey was one of the leading painters of the Hudson River School, whose work brought out the color and breadth of the American landscape. Cropsey took the heroic view of nature popularized by the nineteenth-century Romantics and the paintings of Thomas Cole and made it his own. He was soon hailed as “America’s painter of autumn” and his work associated with the extraordinary richness of the season he portrayed. Three years after Cropsey’s death, Henry James mused over the artist’s “luscious paint . . . on these canvases, all autumnal scarlet, amber, orange.” James’s appreciation demonstrates the elite stature that Cropsey attained: as one of the few members of the Hudson River School with international prestige, he exhibited throughout Europe and the United States; lectured on artistic philosophy; published essays in artistic journals; influenced such students as Norton Bush and David Johnson; and held audiences with the Queen of England.
Cropsey first learned the art of landscape painting as an architectural apprentice, acquiring the sense of structural rigor that buttresses his best work. He returned to architecture throughout his life—he was fascinated by the ruins of Rome, created train stations for New York City, and designed his own mansion, “Aladdin,” overlooking the Catskills—but shifted his focus to landscape painting in 1842.
Cropsey stressed the importance of studying natural form in his essays and lectures, expressing his beliefs in reverent terms: “[T]he voice of God came to me through every motionless leaf, on every blade of grass—the odor of the flower and in every breath of air I drew.” His technical virtuosity allowed him to transfer this passionate involvement with nature from canvas to viewer. Through incisive brushstrokes and a pronounced attention to detail, his paintings pronounce the vitality of nature in vigorous form.
Cropsey was one of the youngest members ever elected to the National Academy of Design. He helped to found the American Watercolor Society and won a medal from the London International Exposition of 1862. After his death, the Newington Cropsey Foundation in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, was founded to display his extensive oeuvre. The White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid also own Cropsey’s paintings.