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Gifford, Robert Swain

Robert Swain Gifford grew up in the village of Fairhaven near the whaling center of New Bedford, Massachusetts. In Fairhaven Gifford studied with the Dutch painter Albert van Beest and with William Bradford. In 1864 he briefly opened a studio in Boston; by 1866 he was in New York. The following year he was elected an associate of the National Academy. During the 1860s Gifford also traveled widely, painting as far west as California and Oregon. With his friend Louis Comfort Tiffany, he traveled to Europe, Africa, and Egypt, which became the inspiration for his Orientalist paintings. In 1876 he won a medal of honor at the Centennial Exposition.

Among the first artists to explore the use of etching, Gifford helped establish the New York Etching Club. He also helped found the American Art Association and the American Society of Painters in Watercolors. From 1877 to 1896 he taught painting at Cooper Union Art School, later becoming head of the Womens's Art School and eventually director of the arts schools. Gifford illustrated W.C. Bryant's Picturesque America and Harriman's Alaska Expedition (1901). Today his paintings are in museums throughout America, including the Amon Carter Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Corcoran Gallery, Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and the Smithsonian.