Study of Beeches, ca. 1872
John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816–1872)
Oil on canvas; 14 3/4 x 10 3/8 in. (37.5 x 26.4 cm)
Gift of Thomas Kensett, 1874 (74.13)
The title of this work, received with the donation in 1874 of thirty-eight Kensett paintings collectively known as "The Last Summer's Work," is evidently a misnomer. The trees are birches, with their textured white bark and relatively thin foliage, not beeches, with their smooth gray bark and dense foliage. The picture has all the hallmarks of having been painted en plein air, and may well have been executed on the shores of Lake George, the site of scores of Kensett's finished works. Surprisingly, but consistent with his draftsmanship especially of near-at-hand motifs, Kensett here evinced remarkable spontaneity seemingly at odds with the patient, deliberating technician revealed in his serene vistas of lake and shore painted in the studio. On the other hand, in the artist's finished compositions, the foreground parcels of picturesque shoreline—not infrequently composed of birches or brittle conifer trees—which sketches like this one often informed, serve subtly to animate with an electric-like charge the otherwise placid tenor that prevails.