Gifford, Charles Henry – American Artist

Charles Henry Gifford (1839-1904)

The son of a Fairhaven, Massachusetts ship’s carpenter, Gifford worked as a shoemaker until 1862, when he enlisted in the Union Army. After fighting in the Civil War, Gifford returned to Fairhaven in 1865 and decided to take up painting. He established a studio in New Bedford in 1868 and, like his fellow Fairhavener, William Bradford, decided to focus his attention on the sea. Gifford showed considerable talent, not only for the particulars of ships and sailing, but for the subtleties of atmosphere and light. As John I. H. Baur, Gifford’s biographer, has written, “Gifford was a typical Luminist in his concern for light, his mirror-like surfaces, and his preference for working on an intimate scale” (An American Luminist: Charles Henry Gifford (1839-1904), The Katonah Gallery, Katonah, N.Y., 1987).

According to Baur, Gifford painted some of his most impressive seascapes from the beach behind the house he had built for himself on Poverty Point in Fairhaven in 1875. Among these are many of the small but highly finished canvases that Gifford called “my little gems”.

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