One of America's original Luminists, painter Sanford Robinson Gifford captured the atmosphere of a landscape, without relying on minute details or topography. Instead he balanced the scene with brilliant light and strong shadows.
He had attended Brown University, but gave up his college career after two years in order to dedicate himself to painting. He studied with watercolor painter John Rubens Smith, and did a tremendous amount of anatomical work before a fortuitous walking journey in the summer of 1846 inspired him to focus primarily on the landscape.
He had always been a great admirer landscape painter Thomas Cole, and this combined with the sketches and sights he had enjoyed while exploring the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains, turned his attention wholly on landscape painting. Gifford would be remarkably different however, as he avoided the European tradition of landscape as a setting and not as the subject.
In 1855 he headed to Europe where he first encountered the French Barbizon painters, and where he was inspired by the use of color in the work of J.M.W. Turner. He also traveled for a while in Italy along with Albert Bierstadt.
During the American Civil War he served in the Union Army, and painted many scenes of quiet and peace that made it clear he longed for a return to such settings himself. Following the war he was a part of a geological survey of Wyoming. He took a second European tour in 1868.
Throughout his career he frequently exhibited his works and belonged to several major organizations, including the National Academy of Design. His works are in the collections of dozens of museums, including the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.