In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: John Frederick Kensett, “Beacon Rock.”
Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1816, John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872) was introduced to artistic expression at an early age; Kensett’s father employed the young artist in his engraving firm in New Haven before seeing him apprentice with the engraver Peter Maverick in New York. After his father’s death, Kensett returned to New Haven to oversee the firm. He would continue to be active in engraving through 1829, but increasingly became interested in exploring landscape painting.
Extensive studies and travels abroad to England, France, Italy, Switzerland, and beyond characterize the next 20 years of Kensett’s life. Among his acquaintances and confrères at Hampton Court and Paris were Thomas P. Rossiter, Thomas Cole, Benjamin Champney, Thomas Hicks, and Francis W. Edmonds. Kensett’s return to New York in November of 1847 marks a significant moment in the artist’s career, for this is when he began to produce his coveted scenes of sites along the Hudson River, Niagara Falls, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks. The Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests, “Though a few such paintings reveal the impress of the sublime style of Cole, the founder of the American landscape school, most reflect Kensett’s experience with English art and the soberer, more tonal style of his older colleague [Asher B.] Durand, with whom in London Kensett had admired the landscapes of John Constable.”
Until his death in 1872, Kensett increasingly came to produce reductive views of shoreline locations — “spare compositions of simple terrestrial profiles against expanses of calm open water delicately punctuated with a few sailboats on the horizon,” as the Met notes. These later paintings are the most noteworthy of Kensett’s career and earned him immediate success among clients who frequently vacationed at the coastal resorts.
A gorgeous oil by Kensett will head to auction via Sarasota Estate Auction’s “January Asian & Fine Art Auction” on January 16. Titled “Beacon Rock,” the lovely picture displays one of the painter’s favorite shoreline views. Of the several paintings of this site that survive, this example might just be Kensett’s best.
Particularly notable are the feathery brushwork and expressive application of paint, undoubtedly inspired by Kensett’s love for English landscape and for Constable. Within this picture, Kensett has done a marvelous job of capturing light as it cascades across different surfaces, an approach that eventually earned him recognition as a master of the mode in American landscape painting termed “luminism.”
Bids begin at $50,000, and are expected to exceed $200,000. To view the full catalogue of available works, visit Sarasota Estate Auction.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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