The Painter of Peekskill

  • March 28, 2012 16:50

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Frank Anderson (1844-1891)--"Mount Beacon, Fishkill, New York"--Oil on Canvas--12 x 20 in.
Abby M Taylor Fine Art LLC
Frank Anderson (1844–1891)--"Hudson River View in Autumn"--Oil on canvas--11 1/4 x 18 3/4 inches--Courtesy Questroyal Fine Art, LLC

Centuries of trained artists have flocked to cities (or nearby art colonies) where they enjoy the camaraderie of fellow artists, social and professional organizations, exhibition venues, and access to patrons. The Hudson River School painters were no exception.

Even so, there have always been those artists who prefer to work apart from the creative and commercial bustle. Sometimes it seems that the personal idiosyncrasies that pull them away from the crowd also help to nurture extraordinary art.

Frank Anderson is a name that carries the weight of a passing shadow against the likes of Cole, Church, and Cropsey. Living full-time in Peekskill, New York, on the Hudson River in the late nineteenth century, he sent his paintings to New York City for exhibition, but kept no studio there.

Art seems to have been more like an avid hobby for him. He was not a member of the National Academy of Design nor the Century Association, both hubs of the artistic world at the time. Yet his work made an impression on its own, enough to induce even John Frederick Kensett to acquire it.

Today his paintings can be thought of as the Hudson River School equivalent of a boutique wine—distinctive, scarce, and made with an apparent passion for the craft.

Frank Anderson was born in Mt. Sterling Ohio in 1844. The Anderson family later moved to Lancaster, Ohio, where Frank became acquainted with Victor Moreau Griswold, one of the first Americans to take up ferrotype (an early photographic process).

Victor Griswold was a landscape and portrait painter in his spare time, skilled enough to occasionally exhibit at professional venues. He was also the older brother of Casimir Clayton Griswold, a landscape artist with a more established reputation who worked in New York City, and later, Italy.

While Casimir pursued art, Victor took ferrotype manufacturing as his life’s work. In 1861 Victor moved from Ohio to Peekskill, New York, to establish his ferrotype factory, and Frank Anderson followed soon after with his family and went to work for him.

While employed at the ferrotype factory in the 1860s, Anderson rapidly became a talented landscape artist. He first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1861, and he would continue to exhibit there, off and on, through 1888. He also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The titles of his paintings indicate that he did not stray far from home: Peekskill and the nearby Hudson River terrain was his favorite subject, though he ventured at least as far as the Catskills and Lake George.

It seems likely that Victor Griswold, who continued to paint in his free time, fostered Frank Anderson’s artistic development. In 1862, two of young Frank Anderson’s four submissions to the National Academy exhibition were already owned by Victor.

Also during this time, Victor’s artist brother Casimir was working in New York City—a short ferry ride down the Hudson—suggesting the possibility that the three may have at least sketched together on occasion.

Meanwhile, Frank’s mechanical aptitude expanded beyond the ferrotype process. Like his father, he became a part-time inventor. He held patents for a telegraphic perforator, an automatic telegraph transmitter, and a suspension hook.

But art remained a constant in his life, and his experience with photography may have given him an eye for composition and contrast.

In the best of his work, Anderson seems to have blended these influences. As seen in “Mount Beacon, Fishkill, New York” at Abby M Taylor Fine Art LLC (above), he was adept at portraying the natural chiaroscuro of cloud shadows as they passed over the countryside—a transitory effect to which he may have been photographically attuned.

He was also comfortable showing a mixture of nature and industry. While signs of the Industrial Revolution appeared in Hudson River School art on occasion—Samuel Colman’s "Storm King on the Hudson" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum comes to mind—most of the time the artists avoided such scenes. 

For example, Sanford Gifford painted Mount Merino on the Hudson River at least eleven times, and as lovely as these landscapes are, in none of the extant versions did he paint the railroad line that crossed the shallow bay in front of the mountain.

Meanwhile, Anderson’s 1868 “Hudson River View in Autumn,” at Questroyal Fine Art, LLC (above), shows the Hudson River landscape as it truly was: a natural artery for both water and rail.

And in the far-right distance of “Sailboats on the Hudson” at Godel & Co. Fine Art, Inc. (above), telltale plumes rise from a train approaching a commercial operation along the river bank. If he had wanted a typically idealized scene, he could have easily edited these features out.

Later in life, Anderson took up etching: the chemical and mechanical process must have appealed to him. He died in 1891, just 47 years old, inflicted with a high fever and “congestion of the brain.” He left behind a wife and four children.

Anderson was described as “essentially a home man. Reticent, retiring and unduly diffident, he avoided all publicity in any way shape or manner, and was little known, except by name and his works.”

Yet his introversion hid depths of talent and feeling.

Frank Anderson (1844-1891)--"Sailboats on the Hudson"--Oil on canvas mounted on board--14 x 23 inches--Courtesy Godel & Co. Fine Art, Inc.



"Obituary: Frank Anderson." The Highland Democrat [Peekskill, NY] 21 Feb. 1891.

Naylor, Maria, ed. The National Academy of Design Exhibition Record Record 1861-1900. New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1973.

Haverstock, Mary Sayre., Jeannette Mahoney Vance, and Brian L. Meggitt, eds. Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2000.

Avery, Kevin J., and Franklin Kelly, eds. Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003. P. 162.

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Hudson River School Stories

  • Paul G. Stein
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Behind-the-scenes vignettes of the Hudson River School, culled from the increasing abundance of online archival sources.

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