Jasper Francis Cropsey at Niagara Falls

10/28/2022     American Art




NEW YORK, NY -- Niagara Falls holds a prominent place in the history of American iconography. One of the earliest descriptions of the falls was Father Louis Hennepin’s Description of Louisiana, a book about his travels in America, published in 1683. An early etching of Hennepin in front of a fanciful view of Niagara Falls appears in his later work from 1697, A New Discovery of a Vast Country. British Army officer, artist and naturalist Thomas Davies painted the first known watercolor of the falls in 1762. An East View of the Great Cataract of Niagara was an accurate rendering of the topography of the falls, including its ubiquitous rainbow. The New York Historical Society has two later versions of the falls by Davies in their collection.

By the early 19th century, Niagara Falls was becoming a destination for travelers escaping the ever-growing cities on the east coast. Among these tourists were artists offering romantic visions of the American interior. Artists produced souvenirs for tourists to carry home to memorialize their adventures and inspirational visions of the grand American landscape for those who could not make the journey themselves. These images circulated widely and helped establish the falls as a celebrated national landmark and tourist destination. George Catlin’s depiction in oils from 1827/28 at the Smithsonian mimics the scale of the falls with its panoramic size of 16 ¼ x 85 ½ inches and likely attracted a large audience. But even more widely disseminated were the engravings and lithographs by artists such as Bennett, Bartlett, and others that were more affordable to an expanding middle class.

Niagara Falls naturally drew artists of the Hudson River School. Thomas Cole painted the falls in 1830, and Frederic Church did so in 1857. John Kensett painted multiple views in the early 1850s. Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823 Rossville, Staten Island, NY – 1900 Hastings-on-Hudson, NY) joined his contemporary and friend Mr. Kensett at Niagara in 1852 and was introduced to Kensett’s friend and patron Peter A. Porter. Mr. Porter’s father had purchased Goat Island, a central feature of the falls. In a letter by the artist’s own hand to Capt. John W. Kitchell dated November 1, 1897, Cropsey recounts how Mr. Porter directed him to a spot below the falls that would become the viewpoint for Niagara Falls with View of Clifton House: “In 1852 I visited Niagara Falls for the first time. Mr. Peter Porter who was a large real estate owner at the Falls, called my attention to a rock, that had fallen and lay partially submerged at the base of the American Falls – and the magnificent view to be obtained from it; of this part of the American Falls on the American Side. I immediately took advantage of his suggestions, and began my sketches. I think it was the first time this view was ever painted. It looked down the Niagara River, with the Clifton House, on the Canadian side high upon the rocks. The outlet to the Niagara River was also greatly obscured. The ‘Cave of the Winds’ is under the near water, a portion of it is just visible over the great Rock, in the foreground, just at the Crown of the Rainbow. It is however much obscured by falling water -, and spray, and vapor. I think it is to be admired for its silvery and clear atmosphere – and its feeling of vastness, and space. The purity and beauty of the blue sky, with its fleecy clouds, and the larger bank of Cumuli cloud which is formed by so much vapor.”

Cropsey would return to the theme repeatedly, often from the same vantage point. The precarious perch from which he painted, later christened “Cropsey Rock,” and views from this perspective appear in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

American Paintings & Prints

Auction Thursday, November 3, 2022 at 11am
Exhibition Oct 29 - 31, Noon - 5pm

Doyle is pleased to present Niagara Falls with View of Clifton House accompanied by the letter from Cropsey to the painting’s first owner quoted above as a highlight of the November 3 auction.