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Harriman Expedition Retraced



The 1899 Expedition
The 1899


Original Participants

Brief Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Aboard the

History of Exploration
Exploration &

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities


R. Swain Gifford

1840 - 1905

R. Swain Gifford was born on one of the Elizabeth Islands off Cape Cod, and spent much of his childhood in the coastal town of Fairhaven, Connecticut. His early life is said to have been difficult - he was not healthy, and seven of his ten brothers and sisters died in childhood. His family was not well off, but a neighbor took an interest in him, and paid for painting lessons. He clearly had talent, and, when he was fourteen, he was allowed to study with the accomplished Dutch artist Albert Van Beest, who was in Connecticut for a short time.

But even with these advantages he had to make a living. His parents wanted him to be a carpenter. Gifford decided to try to sell paintings instead, and, to everyone's amazement, they sold. He exhibited work in New York, and by the time he was twenty-five he had established himself as an artist. Like many painters, he suffered economic ups and downs, but he managed to marry, to travel, and to develop his interests in photography as well as painting. He was a respected and well-known artist, and, at age sixty, a teacher at the Cooper Union school in New York City, when Edward Harriman invited him to come to Alaska.

Gifford was a logical choice for Harriman. His paintings had been used in the two-volume Picturesque America, and he had illustrated works about Europe and Northern Africa as well. His style showed nature in an intimate way, the human figures as small details, the colors muted greens and grays. The works from the trip clearly convey the remote beauty of landscape in the high latitudes. Some of his oil paintings were used as illustrations in the published volumes, and a large collection of the work is now at the Smithsonian Museum.

The Harriman Expedition would be Gifford's last grand trip. He returned to New York and continued his painting and teaching. He died unexpectedly in 1905, at the age of sixty-five.




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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