Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Few Pennsylvanians probably realize that Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Doughty, Frederick Edwin Church and Jasper Francis Cropsey, the leading lights of the Hudson River school, the famous nineteenth century landscape tradition, painted the Susquehanna River or its tributaries. The most important works of Cropsey and Doughty – hailed as the luminar­ies of the Hudson River school – were, in fact, devoted to the Keystone State’s very own Susquehanna River valley! A roster of academic artists who depict­ed the river during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries includes a num­ber of well-known American painters: Levi Wells Prentice, William Henry Bartlett, Granville Perkins, Benjamin West, Joshua Shaw, George Innes, Edmund Darch Lewis, Samuel Dyke, T. Addison Richards, Carl Weber, George H. Smillie, Edward Moran, Louis Remy Mignot, William L. Sonntag, Frederick DeBourgh Richards, Charles Knapp, William Thompson Russell Smith, DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, and John F. Francis. In addition to this impressive list, a litany of painters of local and regional reputation, such as Lloyd Mifflin and Julius Augustus Beck, patriarch of the prolific Harrisburg family of painters, paid homage to the picturesque water­way. There were scores of anonymous artists, as well as engravers and lithog­raphers, including the famous firm of Currier and Ives, who celebrated the river in their popular, mass-produced images.

Despite the importance of these artists and their works, few admirers speak of the Susquehanna River valley painters as a group or as a bona fide tradition. Perhaps this has much to do with the perception of the river: it is mostly unnavigable, it fostered no uni­fied industry, no great city borders it, and (unlike the Hudson River) no con­centration of artists’ homes pepper its shores. It is a river that is serene and, with few exceptions, lacks the dramat­ic, operatic scenery that many nine­teenth century artists sought. Possibly the first American-born artist to use the Susquehanna as a subject was Benjamin West (see “A Pennsylvania Yankee in King George’s Court” by David M. Glixon in the summer 1993 edition) who painted it from memory in 1767, years after leaving his native Pennsylvania. West was apparently inspired by a trip through Italy’s rus­tic countryside; perhaps the serenity of the landscape influenced him or made him nostalgic for his birthplace.

Unlike the Susquehanna River, the lordly Hudson is perceived as a pres­ence, almost pure theater. Aboard a steamer traveling up the river from lower Manhattan, awestruck nine­teenth century visitors passed the Palisades, the great cliffs in New Jersey, glimpsed prosperous river towns, and saw sprawling estates, often of pre-Revolutionary War era, that lined the eastern bank. To the west were the legendary Catskill Mountains. It was sheer magic, high drama all the way to Albany and beyond. While the Susquehanna sup­ported prosperous river towns, its banks were lined with farms, not gild­ed estates of the rich and famous.

Outstanding landscape features of the Susquehanna, such as the Great Bend in the East Branch (where it loops dramatically into Pennsylvania before returning to New York), Tioga Point valley (with its picturesque islands), Wright’s Ferry, and nearby Chickies Rock, were appreciated and captured by many artists, but not one of these distinctive geological forma­tions emerged as an icon in the nation­al consciousness as did the Palisades and Storm King Mountain along the Hudson River.

Susquehanna. The very name is melodious rather than grand, and the river attracted its share of admirers. Various artists executed multiple paint­ings of the river, beginning with English-born George Beck (1748-1812), whose group of watercolors, including one of McCall’s Ferry on the Susquehanna, date from the period between 1798 and 1804. There are three individuals, however, whose work set them far apart from all others when judged by quantity, quality, or national significance. They are Thomas Doughty (1793-1856), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), and Lloyd Mifflin (1846-1926). Together, their work spanned a century of river painting and embodied a love of Susquehanna imagery from the reportorial lyricism of early (or pre-Hudson River school) painting, through the luminosity of the Barbizon school (a nineteenth century group of landscape painters in France) and the light-drenched images of impressionism.

Born in Philadelphia, Thomas Doughty was trained as a leather worker. Essentially a self-taught artist, he developed his distinctive style by copying European paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and those in the collection of his most important early patron Robert Gilmor, Jr., of Baltimore. In 1820, Doughty gave up leathercraft and list­ed his occupation in Philadelphia’s city directory as a “landscape painter.” He was the first native-born American artist to devote himself to the genre. Recognition and honors, but not wealth, came to the young artist. Doughty was elected to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1824. Three years later he was bestowed honorary membership in New York’s National Academy of Design. That year he began to exhibit regularly at the Boston Athenaeum. After several years, from 1826 to 1832, of living and working alternately in Philadelphia and Boston, he settled in the Massachusetts capital. He remained in Boston until he moved to Oswego, New York – on the Susquehanna. It was probably at this time that he painted a little-known but important landscape with a view of the Starrucca Viaduct, now in a private collection. Although a pioneer in art, he never prospered; he died, impover­ished, in New York City on July 24, 1856.

Thomas Doughty was especially interested in mood and atmosphere. He suffused his works with a silver or golden cast, giving them a distinctive aura. When he depicted a specific location, he engaged in reportorial accura­cy of its geology and botany, but his paintings nevertheless celebrated nature at its most seductive. Early in his career he painted imaginary, per­fect scenes with romantic titles such as In Natures Wonderland. He preferred to paint the settled landscape, but with rare exceptions, buildings, people, farm animals (especially cows) are accessories that add to the sense of well-being exuding from his canvases. Doughty may be Pennsylvania’s con­summate riverine painter who com­pleted numerous views of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, as well as the Susquehanna. Like most landscape painters of his generation, Doughty was strongly influenced by the seventeenth century works of Claude de Lorraine (1600-1682), which featured a strongly-framed fore­ground, a pastoral middle ground, and an atmospheric background.

Doughty’s contribution to American landscape painting is contin­ually being reappraised. Once looked upon as a leader of the Hudson River valley tradition, he is now seen more as a precursor than practitioner of the movement, and one who strongly influenced Thomas Cole, acknowl­edged as the movement’s progenitor.

While Doughty’s mature works employed structures as accessories of the settled landscape, characterized by his painting which incorporated the Starrucca Viaduct, Jasper Francis Cropsey employed structures as philo­sophical or poetic statements, such as in his great Starrucca Viaduct (1865). Cropsey, born on Staten Island, New York, in 1823, showed a precocious interest in drawing and architecture. Apprenticed to architect Joseph Tench, he found a sympathetic mentor who encouraged his artistic bent, provided him with art supplies, and even hired Edward Maury, an English painter, to give him watercolor lessons which would improve the quality of his ren­derings. This instruction, and several classes at the National Academy of Design, comprised Cropsey’s formal artistic education.

Like Doughty before him, Cropsey honed his skills by copying paintings and by using prints as models. He established an architectural practice in 1843, also the first year he exhibited at the National Academy of Design. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy the following year, and in 1851 became a full academician.

Cropsey’s favorite area for communing with nature was the country­side surrounding Greenwood Lake in northern New Jersey where he met Maria Cooley, whom he married in 1847. After a two year honeymoon in Italy, the artist turned to painting works based on sketches he had made in Europe. It was not long, however, before he returned to American scenery. Cropsey spent summers sketching throughout the Hudson River valley, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and along the upper Susquehanna River. He employed studies made during this period later in his career, although he produced several major works while his sketches were fresh. A notable depiction of New York’s countryside, View Near Sherbourne, Chenango County, complet­ed in 1853, has been owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1877, testimony to the artist’s reputation during his lifetime.

From 1856 to 1863, Cropsey and his family lived in England. Curiously enough, it was in England that he painted some of his most important autumnal scenes. Autumn – on the Hudson River impressed Queen Victoria and most of the country’s arts writers. Cropsey became a celebrity and a financial success. To satisfy crit­ics who questioned the vividness of his colors, he had preserved leaves shipped from America to display with the canvases. Relying on his sketches, he painted even more autumnal scenes, including two major versions of Autumn on the Susquehanna in 1856 and 1859. Both are, according to art historian Roger B. Stein, “quiet depic­tions of an eddy in the river with wad­ing cows, figures rowing and resting under shaded trees, and a view through framing trees of the peaceful river beyond.” Nineteen years later, Cropsey would paint yet a third ver­sion, but one in which he deleted all figures.

Several years after he returned to the United States, Cropsey created two major works that spoke to the settled landscape and to an issue that most of his contemporaries ignored: the role industrialization – and its harbinger of change, the railroad – would play in the landscape. A few years earlier, about 1855, George Innes in his paint­ing entitled Lackawanna Valley incorpo­rated a railroad roundhouse and part of the City of Scranton in a pastoral, park-like setting which celebrated the influence of man and industrialization on the landscape. Innes had been commissioned by the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, and his painting was widely reproduced on the company’s calendars. Lackawanna Valley is best judged as a commercial, rather than as a philosophical, statement.

As a new, unified America began to emerge following the Civil War, Cropsey used the Susquehanna Valley to explore the theme of industrializa­tion in two major paintings completed in 1865, The Valley of Wyoming and Starrucca Viaduct. The immense Valley of Wyoming, measuring forty-eight by eighty-four inches, is meticulous in its geologic notation, as the view sweeps downward from a hillside past farm­land to the distant canal paralleling the Susquehanna. Puffs of smoke, dwarfed by the far-off hills, symbol­ized industry embraced by the bucolic valley. This painting, one of Cropsey’s strongest, was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Mrs. John C. Newington, Cropsey’s great­-granddaughter who has devoted much of her life to enhancing his reputation.

Using sketches in both pencil and oil that dated to 1853 and 1856, Cropsey created Starrucca Viaduct. From 1848, the year the viaduct had been erected, it was celebrated as a quintessential achievement of American engineering and as an aes­thetic addition to the landscape. (Located near Lanesboro, Susquehanna County, the Starrucca Viaduct, designed and built for the Erie Railroad by James P. Kirkwood and Julius Walker, i.s the oldest stone railroad bridge in Pennsylvania in use today.) Panoramic in scope, the paint­ing showcases the artist’s considerable skills and accurate presentation of geology. But Jasper Francis Cropsey did what no other painter in the Hudson River valley tradition had done before-he embraced the machine and celebrated the man-made object on a level of exaltation usually reserved for nature’s wonders. The painting was later copied as a chromo­lithograph by William Dresser, printed by T. Sinclair of Philadelphia, and widely distributed as American Autumn, Starucca Valley, Erie R. Road.

Cropsey continued to paint the Susquehanna Valley into the 1870s, and his most interesting painting of this period is Sidney Plains – with the Union of the Susquehanna and Unadilla Rivers (1874). By the end of the decade, however, his career lapsed into eclipse as tastes changed and American land­scape painting became increasingly looked upon as “old-fashioned” and provincial. Cropsey’s dream house, “Alladin,” which he built in Warwick, New York, only a few years earlier, had to be sold in 1884. The following year he moved his family to “Ever Rest,” a smaller house at Hastings-on­-Hudson. At “Ever Rest,” he painted mostly local scenes for the remainder of his life, even though the lucrative market for his works had long since disappeared. “Ever Rest” has been carefully preserved by a foundation which officially opened the Newington-Cropsey Gallery of Art and Cultural Studies Center in May. The museum and research center is devoted to the works of Cropsey and contemporary Hudson River school artists, including Asher B. Durand and John F. Kensett.

Although the names of Thomas Doughty and Jasper Francis Cropsey are well known to nearly everyone who appreciates nineteenth century American art, the name of Lloyd Mifflin of Columbia, Lancaster County, is probably obscure. While significant portions of the work of Doughty and Cropsey were devoted to the Susquehanna, virtually all of Mifflin’s attention was given to the river. Lloyd Mifflin celebrated the river as painter, photographer, and poet. From both his town house and his country estate, “Norwood,” Mifflin could survey the broad river.

In many ways – and especially when viewed at a distance – Lloyd Mifflin typified the romantic, if often improbable, late nineteenth century popular image of an artist: that of an attractive, elitist dandy, indifferent to wealth and fame, who withdrew from the world to a place which offered special visions for finer sensibilities. But to those who were able to draw close to Mifflin, the image was noticeably flawed. Mifflin was aloof, as befitted the son of wealth and privilege. He was also heir to a provincialism that ultimately cost him recognition as an artist – which he craved and which he believed was his due.

Lloyd Mifflin often boasted that his ancestor Thomas Mifflin was the first Englishman to settle in Pennsylvania, and Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800), Pennsylvania’s first governor under the Constitution of 1790, was a collat­eral forebear. However, the bulk of his family’s wealth had been acquired from his maternal grandfather, Solomon Heise, even though surviving Mifflin correspondence rarely men­tions the Heise family. The artist’s father, John Houston Mifflin (1807-1888) was a painter and poet, a mentor for his more refined son. The elder Mifflin, a portraitist, had studied with Thomas Sully (1783-1872) and had traveled to Europe in 1836 and 1837. His wife Elizabeth’s frail health forced him to give up the life of an itinerant portrait painter after his son Lloyd, the last child in a family of four boys and one girl, was born.

While most American artists of his generation came from farming and crafts backgrounds, Lloyd Mifflin grew up literally surrounded by art. His father had returned from a grand tour of Europe with dozens of works of art, including paintings by land­scapist Richard Wilson (first president of the Royal Academy), the Venetian master Titian, and the romantic painter Salvator Rosa. Near them hung Mifflin’s copies of old masters, his own original paintings, and pieces by G. P.A. Healy (1813-1894) and other artists whom he had befriended. Family gatherings were devoted to readings of works by William Shakespeare and Alfred Lord Tennyson. It seemed only natural that young Lloyd Mifflin would embark on a lifelong pursuit of beauty.

Much of the young Mifflin’s educa­tion was tended to by private tutors, among them his father, who was also his first art teacher. Lloyd Mifflin’s art education climaxed in 1870 under Thomas Moran (1837-1926), whom he had met while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Moran, only a few years older than Mifflin, also taught him engrav­ing, and the two – sharing an ardent love of the landscape – became lifelong friends. Moran, who was to achieve fame as a painter of the American West with his highly colorful canvases, had earlier in his career been devoted to the precise renderings of the Hudson River school. And he, too, had painted the Susquehanna.

Thomas Moran’s early influence is evidenced by two meticulously detailed paintings by Lloyd Mifflin, both now in the fine arts collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Susquehanna Landscape with Shepherds (1869) is a dramatic, yet lyrical evocation of the Hudson River school tradition. An Autumn Afternoon, which shares many qualities with Cropsey’s style, was painted upstream from Chickies Rock, a Lancaster County landmark. In both paintings, Mifflin used figures and animals mere­ly as accessories to heighten nature’s grandeur.

Mifflin’s fascination with the river led him in August and September 1871 to travel the length of the Susquehanna by steamer and train. Beginning at its source, Lake Otsego, in New York, he traveled, constantly sketching, until he reached the Chesapeake Bay. His sketchbook, brimming with drawings of exotically­-named river towns in Pennsylvania­ – Athens, Towanda, Nanticoke, and Shickshinny – is owned by The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The journal he kept on the trip is disappointing in an artistic sense. Instead of descriptions, or “word pictures,” it is filled with notes on expenses and long discourses on the problems of being a gentleman in America, the importance of dressing well, and ways in which to command proper respect from hotel help.

Urged by his father, a reluctant Lloyd Mifflin, generally xenophobic and provincial, traveled to Europe to study in 1872. He was overwhelmed by the work of J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). He admired Felix Ziem (1821-1911). He studied formally in Dusseldorf with Herman Herzog (1832-1932), who would later sail to America and paint several views of the Susquehanna during his long sojourn. Mifflin’s most important lessons came from travel, though. He voyaged up the Rhine River and, at Moran’s prodding, toured the Alps, but it was in Italy that he underwent an artistic conversion. The radiance of the Italian countryside provided new insights into the use of color. The strong, precise coloration of his earlier Hudson River school-style canvases no longer suited him. “Violent con­trasts of color are not beautiful,” Mifflin wrote. “The colors of the rain­bow are not deep and strong – but it is their luminosity – their light which makes them so lovely – they glow. Their gradation is exquisite – and they are blended and merged into each other so that you can not tell the edges.” While in later years he would return to strong colors, he never lost his mastery of tonality and luminosity.

Returning to America with many of his paintings and artistic booty, Mifflin chose not to settle in New York City as Thomas Moran had encouraged him, but to live along the shores of the Susquehanna River where he could assume the lifestyle of a member of the landed gentry – and painter, photogra­pher, and poet. One of the first paint­ings he completed on his return was View of the Susquehanna Looking Toward Turkey Hill (1873), which shows a freer brushwork and a more subtle, con­trolled palette. After his return to Columbia he developed an interest in photography. Using glass plates, he made hundreds – perhaps even thou­sands – of studies of the Susquehanna River and its environs. Mifflin never thought like a photographer, and while he could competently frame a scene, he was less concerned about exposure. For him, photographs were studies or aides-memoirs (“memory aids”) for his paintings. Occasionally such photographs were exact proto­types for his paintings. Mifflin agreed with his friend James Jarves that “Photography is not art, but a process of science to which art may add grace and beauty …. Further, it is a useful servant of the artist.”

Unlike Thomas Doughty and Jasper Francis Cropsey, Lloyd Mifflin never had to sell paintings to earn a liveli­hood. He seldom exhibited his works. And few paintings left his ownership.

Mifflin’s way of life proved to be quite unusual, typified by his uncon­ventional domestic arrangements. He and his brother Houston, a physician, engaged in curious relationships with the three Minich sisters, Grace, Loretta and Elizabeth, who lived in Columbia. From about 1900 until Lloyd Mifflin’s death in 1924, the Minichs – one a public school music supervisor, one a school principal, and one a beauti­cian – began to visit “Norwood,” and eventually came to live there.

In 1926, Houston Mifflin and the Minichs put up about one hundred and twenty-five of Lloyd’s paintings for sale in Lancaster at prices ranging from five to two hundred and fifty dollars. Only half the paintings sold. When Houston Mifflin died, the sisters inherited “Norwood,” its studio stacked high with the artist’s paint­ings. The Minich sisters gave paint­ings as prizes for perfect attendance and academic achievement to school students, as favors at ladies’ club teas, and as gifts to friends. With the help of brothers Joseph and Miles Libhart, of nearby Marietta, the sisters mount­ed several well-attended exhibitions of Mifflin’s work during the late 1940s and the early 1950s. Joseph Libhart remembers well the towering piles of paintings that Lloyd Mifflin left behind. He also recalls the sisters inviting him to take whatever he wished. The Minichs would cut canvases and give friends the part (or parts) of a painting they admired most. In 1962, several years after they sold “Norwood,” the Minich sisters donated several hun­dred of Mifflin’s paintings and draw­ings to the William Penn Memorial Museum (now The State Museum of Pennsylvania). The collection remains intact, but is rarely exhibited.

Most realize that for an artist to achieve acclaim his work must be known. Mifflin’s is not. It is helpful if works appear regularly on the market. Mifflin’ s do not. There is not one immensely popular, overwhelmingly famous Susquehanna River master­piece by Lloyd Mifflin in a major art museum. None of his paintings have found their way into the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, or the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. One of his largest works, Solitude: A Quiet Hour on the Susquehanna (1881), measuring twen­ty-seven by fifty-five inches, is owned by the Columbia High School, where it receives little attention.

Dozens of Mifflin’s untitled sketch­es and studies celebrate the river in its many moods – at dawn, at sunset, and by moonlight. His smaller works are intimate, extremely personal. A tiny oil sketch highlights a colorful clothes­line and a washerwoman beside the river. A church steeple is seen through a clearing in the trees in the back­ground. While a number of his paint­ings meet the river at eye level, others portray it from above and afar, as in the many views painted from the heights of Chickies Rock. Especially lustrous is an impressionistic depic­tion of an old bridge spanning the Susquehanna from Columbia to Wrightsville, York County, at sunset, in which the bridge is almost lost in the glare of the reflections on the water. To study Lloyd Mifflin’s paintings is to read the biography of the Susquehanna River as it slices Lancaster and York Counties.

Unique among the artists of the Susquehanna, Mifflin used the river as a background for the romantic reveries of both his poetry and his painting. One of his most intriguing – and mys­tifying – paintings remains Endymion, in which he portrayed the classic shep­herd boy of great beauty with whom Celine, the goddess of the moon, became enamored. Begun about 1872 when he was studying art at Dusseldorf, Endymion was reworked and signed by Mifflin at “Norwood” in 1890. The artist wrote about the mirror device he used to paint himself as a nude in Endymion, but he never explained why he replaced an ancient Aegean vista with the backdrop of the Susquehanna River. While other artists painted the Susquehanna, Lloyd Mifflin seemed to merge his personali­ty with it.

The names of acclaimed American artists – foremost among them Thomas Doughty and Jasper Francis Cropsey­ – will be forever linked with what prize­winning journalist Susan Stranahan recently christened “Susquehanna, River of Dreams.” To this day, artists continue to portray the Susquehanna River and chronicle life along its shores, but none have devoted their lives – as did Lloyd Mifflin – to the river which is still crossed by the quaint Millersburg Ferry, about forty miles above Harrisburg, and which is ominously warmed by the nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island, ten miles below the capital city. The Susquehanna River is destined to keep attracting painters and photographers and poets and philoso­phers who will celebrate it much like their artistic ancestors had a century ago. It is a beautiful river, and one wor­thy of so many portraits.

 

For Further Reading

Chew, Paul A., ed. Southwestern Pennsylvania Painters, 1800-1945. Greensburg, Pa.: Westmoreland County Museum of Art, 1981.

Kowat, John K. et al. American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.

Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969.

Nygren, Edward G., et al. Views and Visions: American Landscape Before 1830. Washington, D. C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1986.

Richman, Irwin. Pennsylvania’s Painters. University Park: Pennsylvania Historical Association, 1983.

Rosenberger, Homer Tope, ed. Pennsylvania’s Contributions to Art. Gettysburg: Times and News Publishing Company, 1968.

Stein, Roger B. Susquehanna: Images of the Settled Landscape. Binghamton, N. Y.: Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences, 1981.

Stranahan, Susan Q. Susquehanna, River of Dreams. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Wallace, Paul A. W. Lloyd Mifflin: Poet and Painter of the Susquehanna. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1965.

 

Irwin Richman, a resident of Bainbridge, Lancaster County, is a professor of American studies and history at The Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, where he offers courses on the American arts and popular culture. He received his bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University and his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a prolific writer whose books include Pennsylvania’s Architecture, Pennsylvania’s Decorative Arts, and Pennsylvania’s Painters.