"My dear McEntee…"
On August 28, 1863, Sanford Robinson Gifford wrote to Jervis McEntee from a book shop at Saratoga Spa in northern New York State (the original letter is digitized on the Smithsonian Archives of American Art website).
Gifford had recently returned from his final tour of duty with the New York Seventh Regiment in the Civil War. He was attempting to gather his friends, including artists Richard William Hubbard and Worthington Whittredge, for a sketching tour of northern New York. His letter is a revealing glimpse of the affection and humor that characterized the close relationships among some of the Hudson River School artists.
Jervis McEntee was with his wife Gertrude at his family home overlooking the Hudson River at Rondout, New York (now Kingston). McEntee and Gifford had become close friends since they met at the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York in 1857.
Gifford was also fond of Gertrude McEntee, as extant letters show. One of the few artist wives to reside at the Tenth Street Studio Building during the winter, Gertrude would become well-known among the artists for her abundantly sunny and cheerful disposition.
Jervis and Gertrude were regulars at Gifford’s intimate studio dinner parties, spent time with each other’s families, and vacationed together. The three of them were sufficiently close that Gifford felt at liberty to poke a bit of fun. He continued his letter to McEntee:
"Why did you disappoint me so! I counted certainly on you and Whittredge this morning, and here I find myself alone. You are the only real delinquent however. Whittredge did turn up according to the programme, but I lost him on the way. He disappeared when we changed cars at Troy. With his usual fatality he was either left in Troy, or took the wrong train and is now on route for Montreal. I am holding over a train here hoping he will turn up this evening.
What is the matter? Has that wicked Mrs McEntee, now that she has got you again, determined never to part with you more? I suspect it.
Deceive her, and make your escape…The train I came up in, and you were to come up in, will bring you through in good time.
Come immediately that you may take part in an expedition Hubbard (I got a letter from him this morning) has planned to the top of Black Mountain—'perhaps spending one or two nights on the top. There are two small ponds and an abundance of ledges and precipices there.'
Can you resist that?
Come along, and excuse me to Mrs Mac for asking you.
McEntee did indeed come along with Gifford and Hubbard, though Whittredge apparently never caught up with the group. The three artists visited not only Lake George but Lake Champlain, Lake Placid, and Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks.
Gifford had sketched in the Adirondacks and at Lake George as early as the late 1840s, and he visited the region with Hubbard as early as 1851. He would return again in 1866 when he painted "Whiteface Mountain from Lake Placid," now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (above).
Gertrude McEntee—"Mrs Mac"—presumably forgave Gifford for stealing her husband.
Avery, Kevin J., and Franklin Kelly. Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003. pp. 148-155, 167.
Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Weiss, Ila. Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987. pp. 98-99, 109.