American Masterpieces from Dryads Green Gallery
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Into the Woods, Oil on Artist Board,22 x 24, Signed
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Pastoral but More Jungian than Arcadian
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Recent Auction Sale at $45,000
The Artist ca. 1935
Curator's Comment: Deaccession by a New Jersey museum with an important
American collection enabled us to snag this impressionist Costigan masterpiece for our clients.
"Into the Woods" is one of the artist's pure landscapes, rich in his bright tell-tale reds that
signify the teeming fertility of the forest. The woods are alive with suffused organic red hues
and intertwined tree trunk arteries and branching veins. Costigan equated painting "with what
comes off the land--be it livestock or art
"-- meaning the artistic process is one of natural
transformation.  We prefer this composition because its single focus is uncomplicated by the
presence of his frequent talismans, be they robed goat herding women or towel-draped women
and children seen bathing nude at forest pools--archetypes that suggest his pastoral woods are
more Jungian than Arcadian. Costigan began with the palette knife and later learned to load
his brush heavily, striking the canvas with short forceful strokes. His brushwork is close to
that of George Luks, and Costigan was closest to Luks among the other illustrators in the
Eight. The imposto helps the forest radiate brilliantly with gleaming  light that directs the eye
to the dark heart of nature where image can become archetypal imago. The actual environs
surround Costigan's Orangeburg, New York farm, and are akin to the American neo-gothic
New York state locales of novelists Joyce Carol Oates and John Gardner. Indeed Costigan
would have been the perfect illustrator for Gardner's "Nickel Mountain," with its supernatural
goat lady. These writers understood, as Costigan's genius shows, that the woods are a space of
transformation. Characters out of Grimm's fairy tales go into the woods first to hide and then
to find the resources needed to empower identity.
John Edward Costigan (1888-1972) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He and four sisters
were orphaned and at 15 Costigan was taken to New York to be raised by his aunt and uncle,
the parents of showman and songwriter, George M. Cohan. They were instrumental in
interesting him in a career in the visual arts, though less successful in encouraging his formal
art studies at the Art Students League. Costigan got a job at the H.C. Miner Lithographing
Company, a lithographing firm that made their own theatrical posters. Costigan worked his
way from an entry-level job as a pressroom helper, through various apprenticeships, finally to
the position of sketch artist. As a sketch artist, Costigan was the uncredited designer of
posters for the Zeigfeld Follies and for a number of silent films over the course of twenty-two
years at the firm. He served in the infantry in World War I, and during World War II, he
worked the night shift as a machine operator in a defense plant while continuing to paint and
etch by day. In 1919, he married professional model, Ida Blessin and they established a
residence in Orangeburg, NY, the setting for the farm landscapes and forest interior with
which Costigan was to become identified. His self-taught approach earned his first
professional recognition in 1920 when he received prizes at two separate New York
exhibitions. In 1922 Costigan won the Peterson Purchase prize of the Art Institute of Chicago.  
His first solo show was in 1924 at the Rehn Gallery in New York City and was followed three
years later, by another at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Smithsonian Institute honored him
with an exclusive exhibition in 1937. The Corcoran Gallery followed in 1941.  He won prize
after prize at Salmagundi where he was close to a number of painters who shared his
backgfround in lithography. In 1968 a 50-year retrospective of Costigan's work was mounted
by the Paine Art Center and Arboretum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Museums and private
collections throughout the country loaned their oils, watercolors and prints for the exhibition
and the Smithsonian gave it a national tour.  In 1972 Costigan received his final prestigious
award, the Benjamin West Clinedinst Medal of the Artist’s Fellowship. He died months
later of pneumonia in Nyack,  New York. Today, he is strong in many collections, particularly
the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress
, which hold 22 of his works.