Robert Swain Gifford, ‘Old Trees at Naushon Island’, 1864, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Image rights: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

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About Robert Swain Gifford

Largely self-taught, Robert Swain Gifford was inspired by places close to the sea, especially his home of Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. The artist’s expressive and moody landscapes were haunted by nostalgia and memories of the defunct whaling and salt-gathering industries. By the 1880s, Gifford had moved away from his tight, descriptive early style to painting Tonalist landscapes full of expressive facture and stark imagery, especially bent and gnarled trees along the coast. His subdued colors and emphasis on atmosphere and stark symbolic tree forms spoke to a subjective vision of nature: at once elegiac, spiritual, and metamorphic. Gifford was one of the great etchers of his generation and his windswept imagery of coastlines and beaches touched a strong chord in his day—evocative of a seafaring culture surviving against the odds.

American, 1840-1905, New Bedford, Massachusetts