45.3 John Kensett 12x12.jpg

John Kensett • American: 1816-1872

Esopus Creek (Ulster County, NY) • Oil on Masonite Board 12” x 12”

Discovery. Exploration. Settlement. Those are the three themes that Hudson River School artists set out to depict in all their landscape paintings. John Kensett put those themes to canvas, and lived them, too, leading him down the road to contentment.

Contentment Island, that is.

In search of a private painting retreat late in his career, the ever-adventurous Kensett might have just thrown a dart at a map when he chose Contentment Island as his destination. With little known at the time about this area just off the coast of Connecticut, Kensett asked friend and fellow artist Vincent Colyer to join him for an impromptu excursion.

What they found was a landscaper’s paradise. Sparkling blue waters and sheltered coves. Thick woods, streams, and marshland. Kensett and Colyer had seen enough. They were sold. 

The two built a home and studio on the island overlooking the Long Island Sound. In an interesting twist, Colyer’s wife Mary Lydia, the grand-niece of John Hancock, joined them in their new sanctuary, creating a living arrangement best suited for a sitcom. There they developed a Luminist style of painting, taking great interest in the effects of light, air and atmosphere. These were the same inspirations the Impressionists were exploring in Europe around the same time. However, the Luminists disdained the Impressionists hurried brushstrokes and flattened shapes. Instead they remained anchored to the realistic style.

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