Greenwood Lake, located in the hills of northern New Jersey, was Jasper Cropsey's favorite and most important subject, one to which he returned throughout his career. He was first introduced to the area by New York art dealer, John P. Ridnor. Ridnor also introduced Cropsey to his future wife, Maria Cooley, whose family lived on the Greenwood shore. They later married by the lake, and it would forever remain a special location to the artist. He first painted the scene as early as 1843, and in the following year, it was a view of Greenwood Lake that gained him admittance as an associate to the National Academy of Design (he became a full Academician in 1851).
Cropsey became particularly noted for his brilliantly-colored autumnal scenes, which he began to display on his second trip abroad from 1856-1863. One such painting, Autumn-On the Hudson River, so overwhelmed Queen Victoria and the London press that Cropsey became somewhat of a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic (American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, p. 200). These enormously popular fall views gained the artist the reputation as the colorist of the Hudson River School.
As his style evolved, Cropsey became more and more concerned with the effects of atmosphere, and sunsets in particular. The moody sky of Autumn View is one of his most expressive efforts. The artist expanded on his affinity in the essay "Up Among the Clouds:" Of all the gifts of the Creator -- few are more beautiful and less heeded, then the sky.... Here we have first the canopy of blue; not opaque, hard and flat, as many artists conceive it and picture patrons accept it; but a luminous palpitating air, in which the eye can penetrate infinitely deep, and yet find depth (The Crayon, 1855, as quoted in John Howat, The Hudson River and its Painters, New York: Viking Press, 1972, pp.178-9).
As he attempted to capture the texture of the ever-changing patterns of sky, Cropsey experimented with various thinly applied washes. These techniques often discolored the canvas, staining the paint and destroying the color harmony of the scene. In Autumn View, however, Cropsey's execution was unusually successful, as his smooth, yet multi-layered application of paint conceals the textures and tone of the canvas and conveys the complexity of the translucent nature of clouds.
Cropsey uses the deeply receding valley to lead the viewer's eye through the foreground of the composition, opening up into the heavenly vista. The dale is populated by trees, both those with branches bursting full of yellow and orange leaves and those that stand nearly barren, having shed their foliage in anticipation of the cold, dead winter, imagery typical of his later works. The inclusion of the two tiny figures, highlighted by the white rock on which they rest, grants a perspective to the grandeur of the scene and is a reminder of the powerful sublime in the natural world. Scholar William Talbot's assertion that the artist "was a deeply pious man for whom the philosophical implications of American landscape were quite clear" supports such interpretation (Jasper F. Cropsey, Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1977, p.12).
Though most of Cropsey's fellow members of the second generation of the Hudson River School presented straightforward, faithful rendering of nature with little invention, Jasper Cropsey proffered his brilliant palette with a dramatic license and active brushwork reminiscent of Thomas Cole, master of the first generation. In later works such as Autumn View, Cropsey's strokes loosen, allowing a spontaneity and fluid grace to the paint -- a direct contrast to his mid-century work which retained a Ruskinian tightness (Talbot, p. 245). Unlike his mid-career shoreline scenes, the distant view he chooses to present in this 1888 version harkens back to one of his earliest canvases of 1845, View of Greenwood Lake, N.J. (M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco), a work that Talbot believed to be similar to the acclaimed 1844 work (p.27). However, the 1888 piece is one of the artist's rare vertical presentations. With its gestural brushstrokes, luminous colors and grand point of view, Autumn View stands as evidence to the creative evolution of Cropsey's landscapes and, in particular, those of Greenwood Lake. Today, his 1864 and 1875 paintings of the Lake can be found in the collections of the Newark Art Museum and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art, respectively.