Today in 1816, master American artist and internationally acclaimed landscape painter John Frederick Kensett was born in Cheshire, Connecticut to Thomas Kensett, an English-born engraver, and Elizabeth Daggett Kensett, his Connecticut-born wife. Displaying an early aptitude for art, John was working in his father’s engraving studio by age 12, honing his keen eye for fine lines and details. He continued in that line of work until his mid-20s, when he decided to move to England in search of formal training as a fine artist specializing in landscape painting,
Most of Kensett’s landscapes depicted scenes from across the northeastern United States, including Lake George in upstate New York, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and especially, beautiful views of Long Island Sound from the Connecticut coast. In 1867, Kensett purchased Contentment Island off the coast of Darien, Connecticut, where he set up a studio and painted some of his most iconic coastal scenes. In 1870, he helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
In late 1872, a double tragedy struck when Kensett’s close friend and his wife came for a late autumn visit to the artist’s home on Contentment Island. His friend’s wife fell into the frigid waters of Long Island Sound and drowned, despite Kensett’s brave attempt to save her by leaping into the dangerously cold water himself. Kensett caught pnuemonia as a result of the failed rescue attempt, and died just a few weeks later in New York at age 57.
After Kensett’s unexpected death, his brother donated many of the artist’s unfinished works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the institution that John Frederick Kensett had played such a large role in founding. This provided a lasting legacy to a luminous artistic career that had its origin in a small Connecticut town, today in Connecticut history.
Kevin J. Avery, “John Frederick Kensett,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Biography: John Frederick Kensett,” National Gallery of Art
“The Complete Works of John Frederick Kensett,” johnfrederickkensett.org