The Bash-Bish

John Frederick Kensett1855

National Academy of Design

National Academy of Design

"The Bash-Bish" is widely recognized as one of John F. Kensett's masterworks. The painting depicts a popular waterfall in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, that was admired as "one of the wildest and most beautiful cascades in the country," according to a writer for The Crayon in 1855. Kensett depicted the site repeatedly during the 1850s, altering the scale, format, vantage point, effects in each. This version, painted on commission from James A. Suydam, is the largest of the series and thrusts the viewer out into the open water of the pool at the waterfall's base while creating a symmetrical balance of the cliffs on either side of the falls. In contrast to the majestic, overwhelming power of Niagara, Bash-Bish Falls provides a more subtle and restrained subject with its almost three-hundred-foot cliffs skewed to a more human scale. The fact that this, one of Kensett's most ambitious compositions, was painted on commission from his student, Suydam, reveals the complexity of their evolving relationship.

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