Jervis McEntee: The Winter Conservationist

Authored by Summer Buffin

The first page in Jervis McEntee’s 1874 journal detailing his struggles with depression
and his appreciation of New York’s winter snowscape.

Jervis McEntee, born 1828, was a Hudson River School artist and poet (Vedder 2015). The Hudson River School was America’s “first and true artistic fraternity” (Avery 2004) and focused on the natural beauty of America’s landscapes, particularly the Hudson River. McEntee was one of the esteemed artists who painted in this style, which draws on the British aesthetic of the mysterious and fearsome power of nature (Avery 2004). The landscapes depicted in this style became popular tourist attractions and some are now historic sites (Hudson River School 2023). The founder of the movement wrote to American Monthly Magazine arguing for the psychological benefits of experiencing nature (Kiely 2022). Their paintings helped stir an Environmentalist Conservation Movement within the United States that remains in place today (Kiely 2022). Although he was not the most famous painter of the movement, McEntee’s unique take on the style made him remembered throughout history.

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McEntee “followed his own artistic compass” (Vedder 2015), painting the rich and solemn autumn tones of the Hudson River and its surrounding area. While the most renowned Hudson River School paintings featured vibrant, green landscapes, McEntee was enthralled by the quiet beauty of New York’s snowy and barren cold seasons (Beckenstein 2015). McEntee kept a detailed diary recounting his life’s work and routines from 1848 until his death in 1901 (Smithsonian 2023). McEntee and his wife, Gertrude, were beloved amongst the artistic community of the time for hosting social events with some of the most famous artists, writers, and actors of the age (Smithsonian 2023). Unfortunately, Gertrude passed away in 1878, leaving McEntee to paint and write alone for another 13 years (Smithsonian 2023). McEntee motivates himself through his artwork and stays connected with friends to recount Gertrude’s memory (McEntee 1874-1878, 3). His diary entries from 1874 describe his struggles with depression while he carries on with his artistic career for his remaining years. McEntee’s love for the colder seasons motivates his artwork, staving off the sorrow he feels:

When I reflect as I do oftener it seems weak and spiritless ever to give way to depression and discouragement. Still I do it in spite of my efforts to avoid it. I think one cause of discouragement is a certain impetuosity in my work. I try to do too much at once rather than what I can do profitably in a day and then leave my work for the next day. After I have painted as far as I can with profit I ought to leave my picture and forget it until the next day; but I go on trying to finish and I get a certain hardness, and then thinking of my work troubles me.

(McEntee 1874-1878, 3)

With such a beautiful landscape around him to draw inspiration from, McEntee can hardly find a reason to stay depressed; yet he still embraces his grief often and unabashedly (McEntee 1874-1878, 3). Artwork in museums hangs freely and without much context, save for some nameplates that offer a date and author. Seldom does the lived experience of the artist translate through displays. The grandeur of the museum sometimes leaves behind the hardships artists face in making a living off their commissions. McEntee’s diary entries shine a light on his dealings with grief as he carries on with his lifelong artistic journey, seeing beauty in even the most muted wintery landscapes (Beckenstein 2015).


Avery, Kevin J. 2004. “The Hudson River School.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Beckenstein, Joyce. 2015. “Review: A Kingston Painter, Chronicler of the Hudson River School.” New York Times, September 10, 2015.

Hudson River School. 2023. “Meet the Artists of the Hudson River School and Visit the Places in Nature that they Painted and Made Famous.” Hudson River School.

Kiely, Alexandra. 2022. “The Hudson River School: American Art and Early Environmentalism.” The Collector, January 28th, 2022.

McEntee, Jervis. 1874 November 26 – 1878 December 8. Diary, Volume II. Box BV 4, Folder 1. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Smithsonian Archives of American Art. 2023. “Jervis McEntee Papers, 1848-1905.” Smithsonian Institution.

Vedder, Lee A. 2015. “Jervis McEntee: Painter-Poet of the Hudson River School.” The Dorsky at SUNY New Paltz.