Joe Jefferson, the Painter

jefferson, landscape2

Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905), Untitled [Landscape], 1905. Oil on canvas. Signed and dated: “J. Jefferson // 95”. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2006.02631.

jefferson, landscape3The actor Joseph Jefferson, best known for his performance as Rip Van Winkle, was also a talented painter. If the date on the work in the Graphic Arts Collection is 1895, the painting was probably included in his 1901 Washington D.C. exhibition, admired and reviewed by Willa Cather in her 1901 essay “Joe Jefferson, the Painter.” See: Willa Cather (1873-1947), The world and the parish; Willa Cather’s articles and reviews, 1893-1902 (1970). Firestone Library (F) PS3505.A87 A16 1970

A second review by A.D. Albert Jr. begins, “On the occasion of a recent exhibition of paintings by Mr. Joseph Jefferson, the artist was present and joined frankly in the criticisms of those professionals and students who were in attendance. His evident pleasure in intelligent compliment and the eagerness with which he argued for the mood of particular paintings indicated unmistakably the spirit of earnestness and affection out of which the pictures have grown.

…Those of Mr. Jefferson’s critics who have seen him as Caleb Plummer or Rip Van Winkle insist, unconsciously perhaps, on regarding his paintings as the “aside” of a great character of the stage, or the studies of a dilettante. …There is too much merit in the work to warrant any study of it except as the ripened productions of a true student of nature. No concessions are necessary because Mr. Jefferson has done other things well or allowances required because his appearance as a painter is one of the later manifestations of his artistic temperament.

That any man whose life has been so busy could acquire a deep insight into the art-spirit of trees and rolling hills is not often to be expected, probably; but when that insight once speaks in serious purpose to express itself it deserves to be taken seriously and the expression judged solely on its merits.”–A.D. Albert Jr., “Mr. Joseph Jefferson as a Painter,” The Critic 39 (1901).

jefferson, landscape