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Kauterskill Falls, Palenville, New York

Not on view

Kauterskill Falls, Palenville, New York

Artist: Edmund Birckhead Bensell (American, 1842-1894)

Date: 1867-1869
Medium: Crayon on two sheets of wove paper, joined horizontally
Overall: 23 1/8 × 17 3/4in. (58.7 × 45.1cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower left (black crayon): "Kauterskill / Falls/ 260 ft. high"; on verso, center (graphite): "13" (enclosed in a circle); lower right (graphite and black crayon): "Near Sing Sing / Aug: 23rd [?] / 67[9?]-"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 94.2.A
Text Entries

Bensell made this broadly rendered crayon drawing from the ravine below Kauterskill Falls, the vantage point most often selected by the numerous artists who painted and sketched the waterfall. The small observation pavilion at the top of the falls underscores the popularity of the Catskill Mountains as a tourist destination during the decade of the Civil War, even though grander scenes in the West were beginning to attract tourists.(1) To give the site a sense of scale Bensell sketched a small figure seated on the rock ledge that separates the upper cascade from the lower one.

Very little is known about Bensell, who was born and lived in Philadelphia. He received art instruction from his brother George and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He regularly exhibited landscapes and figure pieces at the academy from 1863 until 1867 and showed a watercolor and drawing there in 1877 as well.(2) During the 1860s Bensell also exhibited his paintings in Philadelphia at the Sketch Club and the Artists’ Fund Society.(3)

Bensell worked as an illustrator between 1866 and 1876 and is reputed to have made forty Shakespeare illustrations for a person named Charles F. Haseltine.(4) This is probably the Philadelphia art dealer, collector, and brother of the artist William S. Haseltine.(5) Charles Haseltine also owned a number of works that Bensell’s brother exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1863 and 1864.


1. Kenneth Myers, The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820- 1895 (Yonkers, N.Y.: The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, 1987), 56-59.

2. Three English scenes that Bensell painted in 1867 are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. See Nicholas B. Wainwright, Paintings and Miniatures at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1974), 291—92, 316.

3. James L. Yarnall and William H. Gerdts, Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues (Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1986), 1: 268.

4. Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, 1670-1870, with an introduction by Sinclair Hamilton (Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press, 1958), 73. Bensell’s Shakespeare illustrations are mentioned in Thieme und Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon Der Bildenden Kunstler, 1909, s.v. “Bensell, Edmund Birckhead”; and in E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, nouvelle edition, s.v. “Bensell, Edmund-Birckhead.”

5. Marc Simpson, Andrea Henderson, and Sally Mills, Expressions of Place.' The Art of William Stanley Haseltine (San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1992), 58—61.



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