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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay


John Frederick Kensett

Born Chesire, Connecticut, 1816; died New York City, New York, 1872

We “revel in cool atmospheres and transparent waters with Kensett,” wrote one of the artist’s many admiring followers in 1863. Kensett established his reputation in the 1850s with exquisite forest interiors, but by 1860 his art had evolved into delicate studies of the crystalline light that distinguishes the summertime character of Atlantic coast beaches. Newport, Rhode Island, and Narragansett Bay, became one of the artist’s favorite places to paint. In the serene coves which here and there mark the shoreline of this naturally protected harbor, Kensett found inspiration in a distinctive embracing atmosphere and easy rapport with nature, the qualities that would make the area a celebrated summer resort. Everything about this simple picnic scene conveys a sense of peace. A viewer would never suspect that it was painted in the midst of the country’s Civil War.

Oil on canvas
14 x 24 in. (35.6 x 61cm)
Gift from a private collection
Provenance: John H. B. Latrobe (1803-1891), Baltimore, Maryland; bequeathed to his daughter, Virginia Isabel Latrobe (Mrs. Andrew Kirkpatrick Cogswell, 1854-1924), 1891; to her son, M. Latrobe Cogswell; presented to Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore; deaccessioned and sold to [Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1969-1970]; sold to Mr. and Mrs. George D. Hart, Ross, California, 1970-1998; sold to donors, Seattle, Washington; to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Washington, 2001
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryWashington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, Feb. 10 - June 15, 1980. Text by John Wilmerding, et al. No cat. no., pl. 12, reproduced p. 24, fig. 12.

Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting, 1760-1910, Sept. 7 - Nov. 13, 1983 (Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Dec. 7, 1983 - Feb. 12, 1984; Paris, France, Grand Palais, Mar. 16 - June 11, 1984). Text by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., et al. Cat. no. 42, p. 245, reproduced pl. 42.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The American Landscape's 'Quieter Spirit': Early Paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, June 25 - Oct. 16, 2005. Text by Patricia Junker. Not in catalogue.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Beauty and Bounty: American Art in an Age of Exploration, June 30 - Sept. 11, 2011. No catalogue.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, American Art: The Stories We Carry, Oct. 20, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesJunker, Patricia. "A Sense of Place: American Art and the Seattle Art Museum." The Magazine Antiques (November 2008): p. 113, not reproduced.

Pierce, Jerald. "How Seattle Art Museum is working to make its American art galleries more inclusive." The Seattle Times, October 25, 2022: reproduced, [A version of this article appeared in print on October 30 with the headline: "Re-imagining American art: Seattle Art Museum offers a more expansive, inclusive look at U.S. art" (not reproduced).]

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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