Sanford Gifford grew up in Hudson, New York, across the river from the Catskill home of his idol, Thomas Cole. He began painting landscapes after sketching trips to the Berkshires and Catskill Mountains. Gifford’s career began to flourish in 1847 when the American Art Union purchased one of his paintings. The following year, the Art Union purchased eight more works and Gifford was well on his way to becoming an established artist.
In 1855 he began a two-year tour of Europe, which included a trip to Italy with Albert Bierstadt. Upon his return to the United States, Gifford rented space in the Tenth Street Studio Building where he associated with fellow tenants Frederick E. Church, Worthington Whittredge, Albert Bierstadt, and John Casilear. Like these Hudson River School masters, Gifford made sketches from nature which he then assembled into a finished piece back at the studio. Gifford’s work reflected his maturity as an artist, with a sophisticated style known today as Luminism. Brushstrokes are minimal or nonexistent, and the canvases seem veiled with soft, somewhat magical light. Though, just as Cole was able to temper the romanticism of his vistas with natural detail, Gifford did not sacrifice the realistic aspect of his landscapes in order to achieve the overall effect of tranquility.
During the course of his career Gifford would take sketching trips in the Catskill, Berkshire, Adirondack and Shawangunk Mountains, as well as in New Jersey and New Hampshire. In 1868, Gifford traveled abroad again, this time traveling in parts of the Middle East. The following year he journeyed with the painters Worthington Whittredge and John Kensett to the Colorado Rockies, where he joined F. V. Hayden's surveying expedition to Wyoming. Gifford is seen as one of the finest Hudson River School painters, with his extraordinary lighting effects and experienced eye for composition.
Gifford’s paintings are housed in prestigious public collections including: the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, High Museum of Art, Mead Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Newark Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, New-York Historical Society, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.