Sublime Scenery in Art of the White Mountains Exhibition at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  • BOSTON, Massachusetts
  • /
  • September 11, 2012

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An October Afternoon, 1871, by Sanford Robinson Gifford (American, 1823–1880) Oil on canvas. Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Visitors to the current exhibition "Art of the White Mountains" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), will be transported to the northern reaches of New Hampshire to view the majestic beauty of its famous mountain range. This scenic journey to the White Mountains features more than 30 works by a “who’s who” of American artists inspired by the region’s singular topography, including Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, and George Inness.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s rich collection, the works range from intimate sketches of the region’s flora and geological formations, to panoramic vistas of the expansive landscape as seen in a selection of oil paintings and works on paper—drawings, prints, watercolors, sketchbooks, photographs, and rare books—a number of which will be rotated during the course of the exhibition. These will be displayed in the Museum’s Edward and Nancy Roberts Family Gallery in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing through July 7, 2013. The exhibition is sponsored by Northern Trust.

Randolph, New Hampshire, 1915, by William Zorach (American (born in Lithuania), 1889–1966). Oil on canvas. Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund. Courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, New York. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“In studying American landscape painting, I have marveled at how important New England has been as a source of inspiration for artists. Living in the midst of it, we sometimes take that for granted or even overlook it altogether,” said Karen Quinn, the Kristin and Roger Servison Curator of Paintings in the Museum’s Arts of the Americas department. “The focus of this exhibition is to show one exquisite slice of our region—the incomparable White Mountains, which Thomas Cole called in 1835 ‘the sublime melting into the beautiful, the savage tempered by the magnificent’. The works on view will illustrate both the allure of New Hampshire’s natural wonders and also the significance of the region in the American landscape tradition.”

Beginning in the first decades of the 19th century, artists and writers were captivated by the pristine beauty of northern New Hampshire: its majestic peaks in the Franconia and Presidential ranges crowned by Mount Washington, the highest summit in the northeast; dramatic, narrow passages between the mountain walls known as Crawford, Pinkham, and Franconia “Notches”; and spectacular waterfalls such as Flume Gorge. The White Mountains inspired numerous notable landscapists, among them Cole, Thomas Doughty, and Benjamin Champney; later masters, such as Homer and Inness; and 20th-century modernists, including William Zorach. The exhibition will examine the allure of the White Mountains for artists over the course of nearly two centuries, beginning with Cole’s 1828 sketch Near Conway, New Hampshire (on view in the first rotation) and an 1828 sketchbook by Henry Cheever Pratt, who accompanied Cole on this trip and who drew Cole’s image on one of the pages. Also
featured will be Homer’s The Artist In The Country (For Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Art, June 19, 1869).

Art of the White Mountains will mark the first showing of the Museum’s newly acquired painting Lancaster, New Hampshire (1862) by Robert. S. Duncanson. It was purchased in November 2011, along with 66 other works by African American artists, from collector John Axelrod, an MFA Honorary Overseer and long-time supporter of the Museum. Funds for the purchase were provided by the MFA’s Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, which promotes the acquisition of works by artists not currently
represented in the Museum’s collection. Duncanson, the son of biracial parents, achieved international recognition for his landscapes. In 1862, he stopped in New England on his way back from Montreal to his home in Cincinnati and, according to the inscription on the back of the canvas, painted this view of Lancaster from Guildhall, Vermont, across the Connecticut River.

Also making its debut in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing will be Champney’s painting Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire from 1858, which illustrates the imposing mountain that lies south of the Presidential Range. New Hampshire-born Champney’s long association with the White Mountains region made him one of its most popular artists. He first visited in 1838, but beginning in 1850, Champney regularly spent his summers around North Conway, purchasing a house nearby in 1853. White Mountain subjects dominate his work, created using a tight, smoothly painted technique reminiscent of the Hudson River School. BothChampney Falls and Champney Brook near Mount Chocorua are named after him.

The works on paper in a variety of media, such as pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor, illustrate both the close-up details and the broader views of the sites artists visited on their New Hampshire sojourns, often creating them as studies for larger oil paintings or as beautiful pieces of art all on their own. Photographers also captured the spectacular beauty of the region, ranging from Bradford Washburn’s Oakes Gulf, Mt. Washington, New Hampshire (1938) (in the first rotation) to Justin Kimball’s Deep Hole, New Hampshire (2002) (included in the second rotation).

The scope of works in the exhibition reflects how different artists viewed the White Mountains, especially as styles changed over the years, evolving from the Hudson River School to early modernism. Zorach’s 1915 painting Randolph, New Hampshire presents an image of the area that is very different from the earlier landscapes displayed. In this work, Zorach— one of the first artists to use a modernist approach—imagines the state as a cultivated Arcadia, with sensuous, Matisse-like nudes lounging in a rural landscape of cows and neat rows of vegetation. More recent interpretations include three works lent to the show created by two artists who are also Museum staff members: Sketchbook (2009–2012) and the etching Artist’s Bluff Peak (2012) by Albert Lewis, a Collections Care Specialist in Paintings Conservation; and the pastel Madison NH, May 1996 by Andrew Haines, Associate Conservator in Furniture and Frame Conservation.

Tags: American art

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