John Frederick Kensett

(American, 1816 - 1872)

John Frederick Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, the son of an English engraver who had immigrated to America. By 1828, Kensett had begun studying engraving and drawing in his father's firm in New Haven and in 1829 he worked briefly for the engraver Peter Maverick in New York. Earning his living as an engraver during the 1830s, Kensett also began to experiment with landscape painting, encouraged by his friend John Casilear (1811-1893). He exhibited a landscape Landscape at the National Academy of Design in 1838 and by 1840 had decided to become a professional painter. That year he sailed for Europe with Casilear, Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), and Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-1871). After an extended stay in Europe, with visits to London, Paris, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, Kensett returned to New York in 1847. He rapidly established a name as a landscape painter and was elected an Associate of the National Academy in 1848, and a full academician in 1849. Kensett was influenced by Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and the English landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837). He was at the height of his powers in the 1860s and he created some of the most accomplished American landscapes of the nineteenth century. Although he occasionally painted large works, Kensett generally preferred to work on an intimate scale, representing favorite places close to New York. He was also active in Bash-Bish Falls, Lake George, and the coastal areas of Newport, Rhode Island, and Beverly, Massachusetts. Kensett was an active member of the New York art community: he was appointed to the National Art Commission that oversaw the decoration of the Capitol in Washington in 1859, was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870 and also served on its board of trustees. Kensett died in New York of pneumonia contracted while trying to retrieve the body of a friend's wife from the waters off Contentment Island, Connecticut.