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James A. Suydam
American
(1819-1865)

James A. Suydam
Gathering By the Shore (Martha’s Vineyard), oil on board; Initialed lower left, 6"x10" (image); 14"x18" inches (framed)
Born into affluence and New York society, James Augustus Suydam long remained a rather obscure figure. Only recently has he become the focus of renewed art historical interest. Suydam was born in New York City in 1819 and throughout his life made his permanent residence across from Washington Square.

He was inspired to become an artist during a three-year tour of Europe and the Near East, where he first journeyed in 1842 and where he formed a close acquaintance with artist Miner Kellogg.

Upon his return to New York, Suydam placed himself at the center of the New York art world during the “golden decade” of the 1850s and was one of the first artists to establish his studio in the Tenth Street Building. He became close friends with a number of major artists and especially with John F. Kensett and Sanford R. Gifford. The wealth of his family freed Suydam from the usual monetary concerns of artists and enabled him to patronize his many artist friends, such as Jervis McEntee and John George Brown, in the process building a significant collection of important works.

In his own art, Suydam eschewed the grand manner of the Hudson River painters, preferring small and intimate landscapes of fairly simple composition. The planer nature of his compositions, the concern for form-defining light, and the hard-edged, linear style, often bordering on the primitive, make Suydam one of the early practitioners of American Luminism, a fact recognized by John I. H. Bauer in his pioneering work on the subject. Suydam’s small pieces, often coastal scenes with a strip of land jutting into the water, are highly remniscent of the more intimate moods of his friend, John F. Kensett. Suydam’s short professional life is closely bound up with the National Academy of Design, where he became a full Academician in 1861 and subsequently Treasurer of the Academy’s Fellowship Fund. Upon his untimely death at age 46 during a sketching trip into the White Mountains, Suydam bequeathed his substantial collection to the Academy.

Suydam is the subject of the recent book by Katherine Manthorne and Mark Mitchell, Lumninist Horizons: the Art and Collection of James A. Suydam (National Academy and George Braziller, 2006). Most of Suydam’s extant work which is not in private collections is in the museums of the National Academy and the Century Association.


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