DAVID JOHNSON (1827–1908)
View of West Point from Fort Putnam, 1867
Oil on canvas, 38 x 60 in.
Signed and dated (at lower right): David Johnson / 1867
EXHIBITED: Kennedy Galleries, New York, October 1–November 15, 1944, The Hudson River in Paintings, Prints, and Water Colors, no. 9 illus. // The Fine Arts Center at SUNY (State University of New York), Geneseo, New York, February–April 1968, Hudson River School, illus. // The R. W. Norton Gallery, Shreveport, Alabama, October–November 1973, Artists of the Hudson River School // Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York, September–November 1974, 19th Century American Paintings from Private Collections, no. 21 // Hastings-on-Hudson Gallery, Hastings, New York, May–June 1981, Light and Landscape: The Hudson River School of Painters, An Exhibition from Private Collectors, no. 1
RECORDED: John K. Howat, The Hudson River and its Painters (New York: The Viking Press, 1972), plate 33, p. 149 illus. in color // Vincent Frontero, “Leaves Aflame,” New York Magazine (October 10, 1988), p. 66 illus. in color // Gwendolyn Owens, Nature Transcribed: The Landscapes and Still Lifes of David Johnson (1827–1908), exhib. cat. (Ithaca, New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 1988), pp. 34–35
EX COLL.: [Kennedy Galleries, New York] by 1959; to Mr. and Mrs. Maitland Lee Griggs, Ardsley, New York, until 1989; to sale, Sotheby’s, New York, October 14, 1989, no. 223; to private collection, 1989 until the present
In 1867, Johnson visited a spot above West Point on the Hudson River to paint a view that had long been a favorite of the landscape artists comprising the so-called “Hudson River School.” John Kensett had painted from the same vantage point ten years earlier, describing the area in a letter of 1854 as being “in the midst of the beautiful highlands of the Hudson, which I think for their peculiar kind of beauty there is nothing to surpass.” The Kensett painting, now called Hudson River Scene but previously known as View of Storm King from Fort Putnam, has been part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1907, predating the founding of an “American Wing” by seventeen years.
Both Kensett and Johnson were attracted to the spectacular scenery just south of the point where the river makes a dramatic “S” turn from north to south. (The Hudson River is tidal until Troy, New York. The rising tide flows north, the ebbing tide south. Currents in the “S” curve can be treacherous.) For Kensett, in 1857, the area was already hallowed in colonial history. Fort Clinton was built on the river shore to block the British advance. Fort Putnam, built in 1778, stood on higher ground to buttress Fort Clinton. Below Fort Putnam is the United States Military Academy, West Point, founded in 1801. By the time that Johnson painted in 1867, the area had acquired another layer of history. West Point supplied the leadership for both Confederate and Union armies in the Civil War. The West Point Foundry, established in 1817, was a major manufacturer of artillery and arms and munitions for the Union Army. Despite the very martial history of the spot, Kensett and Johnson both came for the scenery. Johnson’s view is the more topographically accurate of the two. In his picture, Johnson set his easel on the West Bank of the river, adjacent to a stone parapet belonging to the ruins of Fort Putnam. To the left, but largely out of the picture is Crow’s Nest Mountain. Beyond that, Storm King Mountain faces across the river to Breakneck Ridge on the east side, the two forming a wind gap at the northern edge of the “S” curve. Johnson’s view of the distant eastern shore includes Mount Taurus, just south of Breakneck Ridge.