John F. Kensett studied engraving with his father, Thomas (1786-1829), and his uncle, Alfred Daggett (1799-1872), in New Haven. He went to work in New York as a bank note engraver in 1838. In 1840 he went to Europe with Asher B. Durand and John W. Casilear. In Europe Kensett studied painting and met his lifelong friend, Benjamin Champney. Kensett and Champney traveled throughout Europe sketching and painting together. Kensett returned to America in 1847 and in 1850 he and Champney went to Fryeburg, Maine, and on to Conway. At that time Kensett made the sketches of his famous painting Mount Washington from the Valley of Conway (later engraved by the American Art Union). Kensett made his home in New York City, but he spent much of his life traveling to the mountains in the West, upstate New York, and New England. One of the leading painters of the Hudson River School, he painted extensively throughout New England.
He was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1849.
On January 17, 1870, Kensett was elected as one of the founding members of the first Metropolitan Museum of Art Board of Trustees.
Kensett met his untimely death on Saturday, December 14, 1872 while in his studio in New York City. Cause of death was determined to be pneumonia and heart disease which he contracted while heroically trying to retrieve the lifeless body of Mrs. Vincent Colyer from a chilly ocean inlet at Contentment Island, Connecticut.
John Frederick Kensett, An American Master