Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) was still a teenager when he began an informal, but extended tutelage with his great- uncle, the celebrated landscape painter Frederic Church. The first phase began in 1868/69, when the de Forest and Church families traveled to Rome and Athens where the master and his protégé famously painted on the Acropolis, side by side, en plein air. De Forest continued as mentee in 1871 when he studied both painting and Islamic designs with Church in his Hudson, New York studio and while Church’s exotically appointed house, Olana was being built. Later that year de Forest painted with Church in the Catskill Mountains, and in 1872 de Forest rented space at the Tenth Street Studio Building where Church was also a tenant.
The early lessons learned from Church sustained de Forest’s style throughout his career as a painter. Like Church, the younger artist favored observation over interpretation and the distant view over foreground details. Both artists adhered to the credo espoused by the renowned and prevailing English art critic, John Ruskin who believed that fine art emanates from Nature, and that the artist is the seeker of Truth.
At each destination throughout his well-traveled life, de Forest painted oil sketches, not as preliminary studies for larger pieces, but as fully resolved works. Like many late nineteenth and early twentieth century painters, de Forest worked on paper which he subsequently adhered to canvas. This convenient and lightweight method allowed him to use time between appointments or while on the road to his best advantage. Throughout his career, he recorded carefully selected scenes of Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Syria, India, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, California, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. Each painting is both a moment in de Forest’s life and a glimpse of an era now vanished.
A true Renaissance man, de Forest was a landscape painter, an entrepreneur, a furniture designer, an importer, an interior designer, a world traveler, as well as a husband and father. Propelled by dauntless optimism and a deep need to succeed, his paintings remain the best measure of the man.