John Costigan was a self-taught painter distinguished by his impressionistic style and affinity for bucolic scenes. His work across the mediums of oil, watercolor, etching, and lithography offer an extensive exploration of the pastoral, and displayed the realities of the artist’s rural life. Family members were frequently used as models for his rustic scenes, but his compositions often stand outside of time in a peaceful, if not utopian, world. From muted forest scenes to opulent beachside settings, Costigan developed luminescent and highly sensitive scenes of domesticity and repose.
Born on February 29, 1888, in Providence, Rhode Island, Costigan made his way to New York City in 1903 after the death of his parents. He then began a twenty-eight year employment with the H.C. Miner Lithographic Company, which provided him the opportunity to apprentice as a printmaker and apply his artistic talent professionally. Once promoted to sketch artist, Costigan worked designing posters for the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as silent pictures like D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.
Costigan’s instruction in fine art was limited to a few weeks at the Art Student’s League, where he studied under William Merritt Chase and George Bridgman. He instead frequently visited a studio on 14th Street called the Kit Kat Club, where illustrators and newspaper artists spent nights informally sketching from live models. Following his move to rural Orangeburg, New York, in 1919, Costigan exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Salmagundi Gallery, and Corcoran Gallery.
Further recognition of his achievements included a 1920 award from the National Academy of Design. In 1928, Costigan was made an Academician to the National Academy of Design, leading him to add the distinction of “N.A.” (National Academy) to his signature. He went on to make notable showings at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Carnegie Institute in the 1940s. In 1968, the Smithsonian Institute launched a retrospective of his work.
Costigan continued to paint into his eighties, though his eyesight began to fail. Prior to his death in 1972, he was honored through the Artist’s Fellowship with the Benjamin West Clinedinst Medal in acknowledgement of the achievements of his half-century long career.
Written and compiled by Zenobia Grant Wingate