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Charles Henry Gifford    Click Images to Enlarge

Charles Henry Gifford

Indians on the Lake, 1876

Oil on canvas
12 x 20 inches




(American, 1839-1904)

Charles Henry Gifford was born in the seaport town of Fairhaven near New Bedford during the heyday of the whaling industry.  The son of a ship's carpenter, he was first apprenticed to that trade, then learned shoemaking, but abandoned both to fight in the Civil War.  He was prisoner of war in a Confederate prison, where he developed chronic health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.

After the War, he returned to Fairhaven and devoted himself to painting.  He was essentially self- taught, but was exposed to the rich artistic milieu of New Bedford. Alfred van Beest, William Bradford, Albert Bierstadt, R. Swain Gifford, and Albert Pinkham Ryder were among the artists who lived, worked, or exhibited in the city. Many years later Gifford wrote: "What set me to painting was...seeing an exhibition of Bierstadt's paintings...I was so enthused that I came home, got some cloth and paint and went right to work".
Gifford was a typical Luminist painter, concerned with both subtle and dramatic effects of light, stillness, precise realism, and softly glowing surfaces.  He is perhaps best known for the small canvases measuring about nine by fourteen inches that he called "my little gems".

He painted along the New England Coast, including Nantucket, Cuttyhunk, and the Elizabeth Islands, and inland to the White Mountains, Niagara Falls and Lake George. Toward the end of his career he worked more frequently in watercolor, where his renditions of both naturalistic detail and subtle atmospheric effects often reached their apex.