Near Palermo

Sanford Robinson Gifford

Cerca de Palermo

Gifford, Sanford Robinson

Greenfield, 1823 - Nueva York, 1880

Near Palermo, 1874

© Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Signed and dated lower left: ''S. R. Gifford 1874''
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Oil on canvas

40 x 75 cm


Artwork history

  • Mary Gifford, Hudson (NY). (the artist’s sister).

  • Hirsch & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1982.

  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, 1982.

  • Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.


Exhibition, Brooklyn (NY), Brooklyn Art Association, nº 338.


Exhibition, Nueva York, Century Association, nº 27.


Exhibition, New Haven (CT), Yale School of Fine Arts, nº 60.


N Near Palermo, New York, National Gallery of Design, nº 312.

1880 - 1881

The Memorial Collection of the Works of the Late Sanford R. Gifford, Nueva York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, nº 31.

1982 - 1983

Lines of Different Character: American Art from 1727 to 1947, New York (NY), Hirschl & Adler Galleries, nº 34, p. 50.

1983 - 1984

The Rediscovery of Nature: An Anthology of 19th Century Lanscape Painting in the West, Kobe, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art; Morioka, Iwate Prefectural Museum; Urawa, Saitama Prefectural Museum; Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefectural Museum; Kitakyushu, Kitakyushu Municipal Museum, nº T. 69.

1984 - 1986

American Masters: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Baltimore (MD), The Baltimore Museum of Art; Detroit (MI), The Detroit Institute of Arts; Denver (CO), Denver Art Museum; San Antonio (TX), Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; New York (NY), IBM Gallery of Arts and Sciences; San Diego (CA), San Diego Museum of Art; Palm Beach (FL), The Society of the Four Arts, nº 22.


Mestres americans del segle XIX de la Col·lecció Thyssen-Bornemisza, Barcelona, Palau de la Virreina, nº 32.


De Canaletto a Kandinsky. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 46, p. 136.

1996 - 1997

From Zurbaran to Picasso. Masterpieces from the Collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Shanghai, Shanghai Museum; Beijing, China National Art Gallery, p. 76.


Del vedutismo a las primeras vanguardias. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, nº 13, p. 86.

1999 - 2000

Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh. Pintura naturalista en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 28, p. 98.


D De Corot a Monet. Los orígenes de la pintura moderna en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Valencia, Museo del Siglo XIX, p. 78.

2003 - 2004

Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1823-1880, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fort Worth (TX), Amon Carter Museum of Western Art; Washington (DC), National Gallery of Art, nº 17.


Paisatges de llum, paisatges de somni. De Gauguin a Delvaux. Col·lecció Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Espai Carmen Thyssen, p. 62, illus. p. 63.

  • -A Memorial Catalogue of the Paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford N. A. New York, 1881 , nº 619.

  • -Weiss, I.: ”Sanford R. Gifford in Europe: A Sketchbook of 1868’‘. In The American Journal. November, 1977, vol. 9, nº 2 , p. 99.

  • -Weiss, I.: Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880). New York, 1977, pp. 312-312.

  • -Novak, Barbara: Nineteenth-Century American Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Ellis, Elizabeth Garrity… [et al.]. London, Sotheby´s Publications, 1986 , nº 39, pp. 148-149, illus. [Sheet by Manthorne].

  • -Hudson River School Visions. The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford. Avery, K. J. and Kelly, F. (lit. eds.).[Exhib. Cat. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art – Washington (DC), National Gallery of Art, 2003-2004]. 2003, nº 17, pp. 67, 121, 124-125, 164, illus. [Sheet by Avery/ Kelly].

  • -Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Arnaldo, Javier (ed.). 2 vols. Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2004, vol. 1, p. 288, illus. p. 289 [Sheet by Katherine E. Manthorne].

Expert report

Gifford’s itinerary for his second European tour included a stop in Sicily. He landed in Messina on September 7, 1868 and travelled around the island before arriving in Palermo later in the month. The capital of Sicily, Palermo is known as La Città Felice: a reputation based on its semi-tropical climate, fertile vegetation, and magnificent surroundings. Mount Pellegrino rises above the Conca d’Oro, at the North-western extreme of the Bay of Palermo. Its beauty was praised a century before by Goethe as a “large rocky mass broader than it is high […] its beautiful form cannot be described by words.” Gifford captured its appearance as part of the mountainous panorama that spreads across the horizon in his picture. It presides over the low-lying foreground, with the open space of the sea and broad, flat road that leads the viewer’s eye toward the city buildings along the far shore. He recorded this scene in at least one pencil drawing and three paintings. This one, the largest and final of the series, belonged to the artist’s sister Mary, who waited for him back in Rome while he explored the ill-reputed island.

Gifford travelled not only in the footsteps of Goethe, but also in those of the American landscapist Thomas Cole, who had visited there more than two decades earlier. Cole recorded his own fascination with “the classic land of Sicily”: “[…] the impressions left on my mind by its picturesqueness, fertility, and the grandeur of its architectural remains, are more vivid, and fraught with more sublime associations, than any I received during my late sojourn in Europe.”

Cole, like most Americans who reached Sicily, depicted Taormina and Mt. Etna. Gifford instead found in this thoroughfare by the sea, peopled with carts and travellers, inspiration for a quiet, contemplative scene.

The artist toured the area sketching its scenery and customs at all hours, including the evening procession of stylish equipages of the Palermitan society that always impressed visitors. Yet when he came to paint this canvas, he depicted the road and its conveyances in bright sunlight (indicated by the shadows). It exemplifies Gifford’s unique artistic sensibility and approach to Luminism. With the low horizon line, the greater part of the view is illuminated with this glorious, softly diffused light that conveys a sense of calm. He bathed the mountains, as he often did, in an envelope of mist; this was the visual corollary to his conviction that “the real important matter is not the natural object itself, but the veil of the medium through which we see it.” His picture surfaces are carefully modulated. There is evident a subtle gradation of tone from bottom to top, combined with a gradual scale of brushwork: the detailed strokes that define foreground terrain lead into a more painterly middle ground, which then gives way to a more polished application in the upper sky. The distinctive magic of his art can be studied here: his ability to create a carefully-observed view of Palermo, in which topographical specificity is subordinated to the Mediterranean’s glorious atmospheric haze.

Katherine E. Manthorne