In the Twilight Hour - Albert Babb Insley (1842-1937)
In the Twilight Hour - Albert Babb Insley (1842-1937)
Oil on Canvas 10 x 16 1/2 (in frame) Signed L/R
Landscape and marine painter Albert Babb Insley was born in 1842, growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was active early in the arts. At age fourteen in 1856, he received his first major painting commission of the Llewellyn Park Estate of D.C. Otis; and the same year he left school to become an apprentice photographer under his father, Henry Earle Insley, who was one of the earliest pioneer photographers in America. In 1860, at age 18, Insley made his first of many painting trips to the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire and to the Shawangunk Mountains of New York.
When only twenty-five, Insley began exhibiting on a regular basis at the National Academy of Design in New York City, having exhibited 36 times from 1862 to 1898. He continued his artistic studies, even as an exhibiting artist, with the well-known Jasper Cropsey in 1864 and 1865. By the early 1860s, he was an art instructor with Henry L. Hillyer at New York University, Waverly Place, New York City. He was also a long-time exhibitor from 1869 to 1891 at the Brooklyn Art Association.
In New York City, he lived and worked at the Tenth Street Studio Building for 48 years. He also took regular painting trips north of the city and across the Hudson River in New Jersey, as well as in the New England states. He also painted views of New York harbor, Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey.
In the early 1880s, Insley's work reflected the influence of the Barbizon School of France. Insley took an art class on glazing techniques with George Inness Sr. who influenced him to become looser and more expressive. During the summers of 1864 and 1865, he studied landscape painting with Jasper Francis Cropsey at his home on Greenwood Lake, which caused him to lighten his palette.
The long-lived artist died in Nyack, New York in 1937 at age 95. His memberships included the Boston Arts Club, Brooklyn Art Association, Nanuet Painters and Sculptors Guild, National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Salmagundi Club.
His collections include the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Cragsmoor Free Library, New York; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; Harding Museum, Chicago; Jersey City Museum, New Jersey; Preservation Society, Newport, Rhode Island; and the Rockland Historical Society, New York.
Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Unknown Author "The Delicate Palette of Albert Insley" Antiques and the Arts Weekly, June 22, 1984
Insley was born on April 1, 1842 in Orange, New Jersey the son of Henry Earle Insley and Sarah Ann Fletcher Babb and the second eldest of four brothers and three sisters. When Insley was two, the family moved to Jersey City, NJ and Insley lived there until his mid-twenties. Insley became a tenor soloist at Lutheran functions and an accomplished player of the cello, organ, piano and violin, but he yearned to be a painter.
Insley claimed he was "self taught" and that from early childhood he sketched and painted in the Palisades and in Orange Mountain, NJ. Nevertheless, he studied with his uncle, architect George F. Babb (1854), and at the age of 13 he designed cottages for the wealthy in Llewellyn Park and was commissioned by D.C. Otis of the Park at age 14. He quit school to work in his father, Henry Earle Insley's photography studio (1856), where he learned to make negatives and began to understand what constituted a balanced design. For many years, Insley was a photographer who sold his work in many galleries. His uncle George Babb paid for Insley and a friend to paint in the White Mountains. It was there that Insley first painted a storm-filled scene befitting the Hudson River School tradition titled Peace in the Catskills. He painted West Hoboken, Mansfield, Bergen County, Staten Island, Plainfield, Lake George, and Cornwall (CT) and Lake Champlain (NH) during the early 1860s.
In 1862, artist Samuel B. Morse suggested to Insley that he exhibit at the National Academy of Design, which continued for 36 years. Probably as a favor to Insley's father, Morse was also instrumental in securing for Insley a deferment from the Civil War draft by getting him a teaching position at New York University's Art School located on Waverly Place. He opened an art and photographic supply store with his brother Henry, but soon left the partnership to take summer painting lessons with Jasper Cropsey at Greenwood Lake. Cropsey taught Insley to paint nature tighter and more accurately with warm colors and he learned to draw with a brush, as well as in watercolor and pencil. Insley (a member of several temperance societies and a devote Christian) respected Cropsey as a painter and because of his religious and moral beliefs.
In 1865, Insley painted in North Conway along the Saco River and at the summit of Mount Washington, NH with John W. Casilear and others. Inness taught Insley how to develop pigment and glazing techniques (1881) and although both Inness and Cropsey each had a profound influence upon Insley, he developed his own artistic style and techniques.
During the 1860s, Insley taught at New York University's art school and he was nominated to become a member of the National Academy but he withdrew his name without saying why (1869, 1875).
When patron James Boorman Johnson bought one of his canvases and offered him a studio for $50 a month at 51 West 10th Street, Insley accepted. From 1872-1918, he maintained studio #10 for over 45 years and loved working in New York City. From his 10th Street Studio he painted from true studies of nature over 1450 small sized oils on canvas. In 1875, he was wealthy enough to buy a 35-acre farm-home in Nanuet, NY and eventually he maintained a Cragsmoor Studio and others in North Conway (NH), Essex (CT) and Crawford Notch (NH). His closest artist associates were J. Alden Weir, Seymour Guy and James Craig Nicoll and Arthur Hoeber with whom he discussed art and techniques from his 10th Street Studio.
Up until 1878, Insley followed Cropsey's advice and painting oils on paper, then he developed the habit of painting four small scenes on one gessoed canvas that were later cut to size. In 1880 he painted in Bar Harbor, Friendship Harbor and at Cape Elizabeth and along Penobscot Bay, ME.
Insley was a close observer of nature and a consummate draftsman. Most of his subjects are of vistas along the East River; New York Harbor; barges along the Hudson; Brooklyn and the north shores of Staten Island; northern New Jersey and Boyonne; and later along the coast of Maine.
He painted with George L. Noyes in and around Gloucester until 1926 and from 1902-1907 he painted and had a studio in Annisquam overlooking Ipswich Bay. After 1908, Insley lightened his Barbizon palette and loosened his brushwork to emulate the French Impressionists. Throughout his career, Insley's style evolved but his brushwork remained luxuriously clean and uncluttered. His shoreline and harbor views, often dramatized with a rainbow, or exquisite expansive vistas are visually pleasing and often luminous sunsets with sunlit flickering in river or lakes or romantic old lanes with cloudy skies moving overhead.
From 1900-1930 he taught private painting classes at the Nanuet Painters and Sculptors (NY) and painted alongside William Merritt Post, Joseph Mueller, Harrison Cady, John Costigan, Leonard Ochtman, Bruce Crane and others, but by 1920 his health began to fail and he went outdoor to paint less frequently. He died in his sleep at the Miss Hess's Boarding Home on October 21, 1937, at the age of 95.
Insley exhibited extensively at the National Academy of Design (1862-1905), the PAFA (1881-1891), the Brooklyn Art Association (1869-1891, where he won several awards); the Salmagundi Club (charter member); the Nanuet Painters Guild; the Boston Art Club (1886-1908); James Gill's Art Emporium (Springfield, MA 1889-1916) and at the Art Institute of Chicago, Vose Galleries of Boston, Babcock Galleries (NY); Ainslie Gallery and Anderson Gallery (NYC) and elsewhere. A retrospective exhibition was held at the Cragsmoor Free Public Library, Cragsmoor, NY (1984-1985) that traveled to six museums in the Northeast.
His signatures range from the initials A.I. and A.B.I. as an "anchor" monogram through 1866. Signatures followed by a date and written in block lettering appear as A. Insley or Albert Insley. His heirs often added a stamped signature alongside, over or under Insley's signature creating a double signature.
Insley married Maria Pell Hubbard in Brooklyn, NY July 22, 1880. They had three children. One of his relatives was painter Roy Blankenship.
Bibliography: Roy Blankenship, The Delicate Palette of Albert Insley (1982); Who Was Who in American Art, Vol. II, p. 1688; "The Art of the Insleys," Jersey Journal (May 1917); Jane B. Davis, "Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey," Antiques, January 1975, pp. 145-146.
Submitted by: Historian, Patricia Jobe Pierce