Sanford Robinson Gifford, Thomas Cole, and Frederick Edwin Church are arguably the big three names in the Hudson River School of painting, but until a few years ago, the marker for Gifford’s grave was in an upturned, dilapidated state. Enter Peter Jung.
Jung, the owner of Peter Jung Fine Art in Hudson, New York, lives in Gifford’s hometown. His gallery is located just a block away from where Gifford’s house was. That house was bulldozed in the 1950s — a beautiful, Italianate mansion was destroyed to make way for an asphalt parking lot. A lovely farmer’s market sets up there now, Jung says, but that fails to take away the sting of losing Gifford’s home. Perhaps this played a role in Jung’s mind when he and a friend came across Gifford’s grave while walking a dog in Hudson. “I was very well aware of Gifford because of my activities in the fine art world,” says Jung. “We came upon the cemetery and wondered if he was there, and sure enough, there he was, buried right next to his wife. Most of the stones were tipped over, and a few were broken. The cemetery plot is on a steep hill, so gravity worked against them as well. A nearby stone quarry had been blasting for decades, so the vibrations probably played a role, too. Some of the stones had fallen down the hill.”
The headstones for Sanford Gifford and his wife
“I had to do something.” Jung certainly did — he raised $20,000 from clients, cleared the restoration project with local authorities, and found a stonemason with the skills to reset the stones and carefully clean them up. “They hadn’t been touched in 100 years,” says Jung. “Part of what I’m trying to do is rekindle more appreciation for our cemetery in general. It’s in a pretty tragic state, and it really is a beautiful cemetery. We don’t have a lot of green space here in Hudson, so the cemetery is in a lot of ways a park for us.”
The mansion where Gifford lived. It was bulldozed in the 1950s.
Jung’s work on Gifford’s grave has pointed Jung in a particular direction, one that he finds satisfying. “The Hudson River School of painting is pretty far away and distant, off the radar for a lot of people in Hudson, even though we are living right here in the middle of it,” he says. But when Jung gave a 90-minute talk at the local library, he spoke to a full house. “They were extremely attentive and appreciative,” he recalls. “I could put it in context, and the imagery is so appealing.” Jung has already been asked to give his talk at other locations, and he’s warming to the idea of being the ambassador in the area to its own art history.