Jasper F. Cropsey at age 24, painted by Edward L. Mooney in 1847. From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.Thanks to the generosity of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the house and studio of the painter Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), one of the leaders of the 19th-century Hudson River School.
The Hudson River School has been called the first truly American school of painting, a school that glorified the beauty and grandeur of the American landscape. Cropsey himself was known as “America’s painter of Autumn.” His paintings of the fall colors of the Hudson Valley were so brilliant that the English thought he was exaggerating when he exhibited his work in London. He had leaves sent from home and displayed them with the paintings to prove that trees could really show such colors. Cropsey began his career in New York City as an architect, but from childhood he had shown a gift for painting. He exhibited a landscape at the National Academy of Design when he was 21 that earned him an invitation to become an Associate Member—the youngest in the history of that organization. In 1845 he left architecture to become a full-time painter.
"View of Hudson River and Palisades from Artist's Home," an oil painting signed and dated, "J.F. Cropsey 1886." From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.His work reached the peak of its popularity in the 1850s and 1860s. During this period he travelled between Europe and America, painting English castles and abbeys for his American clients and the American landscape for the English. In 1861 he was presented to Queen Victoria, who greatly admired his “Autumn—On the Hudson River.” In 1862 the painting won a medal at the International Exposition in London and sold for the amazing sum of $2,000. Back in New York, Cropsey helped to found the American Watercolor Association in 1866. That same year Cropsey and his wife Maria purchased land in Warwick, NY on which they built a splendid house and studio that they christened “Aladdin.”
But during the 1870s the tide of fashion began to turn against the Hudson River School as the public became more interested in French landscape painting, and then Impressionism. The Cropseys, who were never careful with money, were forced to sell “Aladdin” in 1884. In 1885 they purchased a Gothic Revival cottage that had been built in the 1830s on Washington Avenue in Hastings. The couple gave the house the name “Ever Rest”, and they lived there together until Jasper Cropsey’s death in 1900.
Detail of a 1901 map of Hastings of the area between Main Street and Washington Avenue showing the Cropsey Estate, the house on Washington that backed onto the Ravine with its circular driveway, the stream running through the Ravine down to the industrial waterfront, and at the far right the "School" -- the 1863 Fraser Free School, the first school building built in Hastings.As soon as they purchased the property, Cropey added a studio, a recreation of the one he had designed for Aladdin. The two-story room is paneled with dark wood and contains an Inglenook fireplace, modeled after one Cropsey had admired at Windsor Castle. Above is a square cupola whose windows can be opened with pulleys. The house and studio are full of his work, and you will also see Cropsey’s palette and easel there, as well as furniture and stained glass that he designed.
Interior of Jasper F. Cropsey's studio in Hastings.Hastings, according to Cropsey, was “one of the finest passages of scenery on the river.” From 1885 on, the town began to figure prominently in Cropsey’s paintings and drawings. His studio overlooks the Ravine that begins behind Five Corners and leads down to the waterfront, under the Warburton Avenue Bridge that was built in 1899, the year before Cropsey died. The painting reproduced above shows the view looking west down the Ravine to the Hudson River. He also painted the view in the opposite direction, looking up the Ravine toward the back of Main Street. This watercolor, which you can see below, shows what was then the Fraser Free School (now the Hook & Ladder Company) and an axle mill in the Ravine, long since demolished, that was fed by the stream that ran through the Ravine. (For someone who had made his reputation as part of a group that prized wilderness above everything, it is surprising how many of Cropsey’s Hastings views include industrial buildings and steam boats.)
Cropsey also painted pictures of the Hastings waterfront and views looking down to the river from the Hastings hills, as well as scenes in nearby river towns. “I have no occasion,” he wrote, “to travel much since I am so surrounded with beautiful scenery – the rocky palisades – the ever changing marine “bits” of the Queen River; and inland, the lovely meadow and wooded hills of the Saw-Mill River Valley, and the grassy Sprain River – where the summer verdure is most luxuriant and the autumn color is as brilliant as any where in our country. … [I] find my recreation with my sketch book, in little tramps about my home.”
"View from the Studio (Overlooking Ravine)," watercolor painted by Jasper F. Cropsey in 1891. From the collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.