Sanford Robinson Gifford – American Lummism Master

Katherine19th Century Art, American Paintings, Artist SpotlightLeave a Comment

Sanford Robinson Gifford’s art is dramatic and iridescent. Considered by some to be the father of American Lummism, Gifford’s sense of light creates unique and meaningful scenes. His landscapes conveyed deep emotion and went beyond merely capturing an image.

Sanford Robinson Gifford

View of Catskills, 1860

Gifford grew up in Hudson, New York. Since he knew the area well, he naturally gravitated towards the Hudson RiverSchool – a group that prized precise brushwork and evocative landscapes. He became known as one of the finest examples of the early Hudson RiverSchool artists.

Gifford’s sensitivity and masterful use of color were among his strengths. Each color is vibrant and subtle, as it would be seen in nature. Light is represented in a variety of tones and is used to create a stunning and dynamic affect. The light is a character in itself.  Sanford Robinson Gifford took great care to balance his works. There is harmony even in these large scale scenes.

While Sanford Robinson Gifford is primarily known for his northeastern landscapes, he traveled throughout the west and in Europe. However, travel was not the source for his works. Gifford had also painted scenes based on his experiences fighting in the Civil War.

In 1861, the Confederacy seized Fort Sumter. Tensions between the North and South had met its breaking point and the Civil War began. Gifford enlisted and became a member of the Eighth Company of the Seventh Regiment, New York State National Guard. This regiment was responsible for protecting the capital.

Sanford Robinson Gifford was a solider first, but he could not abandon his need for expression. His sketch book remained at his side and the resulting paintings are personal and realistic accounts of life as a Union solider. While other artists painted from the sidelines, Gifford experienced the war. This is what makes these works unique.

Despite the grim circumstances, Sanford Robinson Gifford found beauty in the surrounding landscape. This gives these works a sense of hope and optimism. Instead of merely reporting what he had seen in the army camp, Gifford gives insight into what he may have felt upon reflection of these events.

Recognized as an important artist of his time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated Gifford’s life and career shortly after his death in 1880. The Met hosted a memorial and published a catalog. Gifford’s works are still housed in a number of museums, including the National Gallery of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, and others.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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