A Master of Duality: Elements of Hope, Beauty, and Seclusion in D. F. Hasbrouck’s Watercolors

By Chloe Baker

DuBois Fenelon Hasbrouck’s success as an aspiring artist is remarkable for the time period he lived in due to his upbringing in the upscale yet rural town of Pine Hill, New York. Far from the aristocratic cities of Europe—the artistic and intellectual center during the Gilded Age, D. F. Hasbrouck learned the art of painting not from  an instructor at The Royal Art Academy in Paris, but rather during stolen hours at father’s farm that should have been devoted to tasks relating to husbandry. 1

D.F. Hasbrouck did not realize his passion for painting until his home town was visited by the famous artist J.G. Brown during the summer, whose presence convinced Hasbrouck to begin painting. As a child, Hasbrouck had always preferred drawing to school work, and it was soon apparent that Hasbrouck possessed great adeptness at producing art. Although his family possessed no supplies, Hasbrouck was given paint from the hired hands who labored on the farm, and he would use wooden boards as a substitute for a canvas. Even with these rudimentary accommodations, Hasbrouck’s innate talent was evident. The teenager soon gained a fan base. This included prominent members of society such as the Reverend Howard Crosby, an advocate for social reform in New York City who often vacationed in the town of Pine Hill. Despite the disapproval of Hasbrouck’s parents with their son’s professional aspirations, Hasbrouck relocated to New York City at the urging of Crosby at the age of nineteen years old. 2

During his time in New York, Hasbrouck was a prolific painter, and would eventually earn the title as the “American Impressionist.” This is a title and position Hasbrouck readily embraced, as evident by a letter he sent to a friend Mr. Rathbun: “America will very soon lead the world in Art—for truth must prevail, and it is only proper that the National Museum should secure the best that our country produces.” 3 This quote is undoubtedly a reaction concerning a subject Hasbrouck regarded with strong opinions. It is the notion that proper art could only be found in Europe, and the only pieces worth investing in should be European in origin. With the aid of two wealth business men, William T. Evans of Montclaire, New Jersey, and James Ellsworth of Chicago, Hasbrouck would go on to challenge such notions. These two gentlemen became sponsors of Hasbrouck’s and begun a collection of American paintings that are on display at various museums today.

After nearly two decades in the city, Hasbrouck relocated with his wife back upstate New York. It was during this period that Hasbrouck reached the height of his career. The fact that his relocation only aided his popularity is understandable, as Hasbrouck’s specialty involved depicting scenes of nature, yet in a manner that veered away from overly sentimental or romantic images that were becoming outdated in style. His paintings depicted images that had been painted many times before such as trees, and the changes in landscapes from season to season.  Often Hasbrouck portrays the land as either a barren winter landscape lush white snow, or a budding fields of green in the springtime. Yet what makes Hasbrouck’s paintings so unique is their ability to transport the viewer to another time period, a time far removed industrialization and progress—to a place where the rugged terrain of nature remains to be the supreme ruler. His depictions of nature ignite in those gazing at them a sense of peace and wonder, yet also a slight feeling of isolation. It is as though by painting trees, he is capturing the joy, fear, and Divinity that is associated with humanity.4 The Historic Huguenot Street Permanent Collection holds examples of these D.F. Hasbrouck paintings, some of which are on display. The first painting is a watercolor on paper of a farmhouse scene, not dated. The second painting is a watercolor on paper of a rural scene, dating to 1899. These two paintings are not on display, but you can find four D.F. Hasbrouck paintings in the Deyo House.

dfhasbrouck-1

dfhasbrouck-2

1 Walsh, Suzanne M. The Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings of D.F. Hasbrouck: American Impressionist (1859-1917). Prattsville, New York: Zadock Pratt Museum, 2014. 6. Print.

2 Ibid. 7-8.

3 Ibid. 5.

4 Ibid. 18-19, 21.

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