Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on February 7, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Portland Museum of Art. The essay was previously included in an illustrated catalogue titled Charles Codman: The Landscape of Art and Culture in 19th-Century Maine. The catalogue was first published in 2002 by the Portland Museum of Art and the ISBN number is 1-916857-32-8. Images accompanying the text in the book were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue, please contact the Portland Museum of Art at:
Diamonds, Rifle Rangers and Rock Slides: Codman's "Native" Landscapes
by Jessica Skwire Routhier
Charles Codman's evolution into Maine's premier landscape artist tells the story of scenery painting in the United States. His transition from a painter of shop signs and fire buckets to landscapes signals a national shift in the market for paintings, the role of art in everyday American life, and the attitude toward the natural world. Nowhere in his body of work is this better illustrated than in a fireboard depicting the beloved Portland destination Diamond Cove. With this object, Codman married the functional and fine arts by uniting decorative painting techniques with an ambitious landscape composition. He also helped to establish an aesthetic and an iconography which would color painting in Maine and the United States throughout the nineteenth century.
Both View of Diamond Cove from Great Diamond Island (p. 57) and its companion fireboard, East Cove (p. 24), depict lush local scenes with a sophistication of paint handling and spatial relationships uncommon, if not unprecedented, in this ornamental painting medium. Fireboards, painted wooden panels used to cover open hearths during the summertime, were often decorated with simple stenciled designs, and sometimes they were painted to create the illusion of a vase of flowers placed before the fireplace; however, landscape depictions are rare and tend to be simplified and stylized. These fireboards, by contrast, not only display the painter's skill in rendering landscape forms and evoking the play of light in nature, but they also suggest a familiarity with the conventions employed by masters of landscape in Europe and America. (Indeed, Codman's skills in this area had previously been noted by critic John Neal, who deemed the artist's landscapes "admirable.") Trompe l'Oeil "frames" in the form of stenciled gold leaves surround the central landscape compositions -- East Cove's adding a floral spray at regular intervals -- thus, paradoxically, using a technique associated with decorative painting to tie these compositions to "fine art" easel paintings.
View of Diamond Cove is a particularly idyllic scene of a protected inlet populated by several picnickers, sprinkled with sailboats, and framed by gracefully curving trees. Its choice as a subject was surely guided by the bet that the fireboards were created for the Portland mansion of shipping tycoon James Deering, who owned the northern part of Casco Bay's Great Diamond Island, where the cove was located. So called because of the abundance of quartz sparkling on the shoreline, Diamond Cove is a picturesque curve of coast that was a favored spot of the Deering family and those they welcomed there for picnicking and sailing excursions. In short order, casual jaunts to the island became a social phenomenon, as pleasure boats brought guests by the dozens to enjoy 'a sail, a fish dinner, and an afternoon sport at Diamond Cove." Codman's interpretations of the site garnered corresponding fame, as this essay will demonstrate. The fireboard view is among the earliest of many Diamond Cove oils by Codman; one of those views was reproduced as a print (right) that in turn inspired by legions of imitators (see p. 59),
There is a certain symmetry to this ongoing life of Codman's most famous composition, since Codman himself relied upon print sources for many of his landscapes and genre scenes, a common practice at a time when travel was difficult and access to famous works of art and the landscapes of antiquity was limited. Distinctive in the case of Diamond Cove, however, is the fact that, for those artists reworking Codman's composition, the subject was neither far-flung nor exotic. Particularly once steamboat service to Diamond Cove began in 1822, it was easily accessible to a regional audience; and while the tranquil inlet was and is certainly lovely, there was nothing in it that could claim either the majesty or true uniqueness of, for instance, Niagara Falls or Virginia's Natural Bridge. Nor was Diamond Cove a site of any historical significance; its gentle shores were not associated with drama of either a human or a national nature. Why, then, the appeal of this spot and of Codman's depictions of it? What about it drew the appreciation and imagination of so many?
Many admirers and chroniclers of the American landscape struggled with the same question in the first half of the nineteenth century. The American wilderness, while widely regarded as beautiful and even, in many cases, aesthetically superior to the landscapes of Europe, was thought to lack the significance of centuries of Western history enacted upon it. This argument was derived from the popular nineteenth-century theory, propounded by Scottish philosopher Archibald Alison, that in order to arouse emotions, works of literature and art (and especially landscapes) must contain "associations" with a historical past or with broad concepts of human thought, conflict, or spirituality. In defense of their local scenes, American artists and aestheticians counter-argued that American landscapes had their own unique associations, not merely to a past that, while different from Europe's, was equally rich in legend, but also to a future that would embody all the glories of the new nation. In 1836, Thomas Cole, the acknowledged master of American landscape painting, wrote that:
Poets and writers, indeed, seemed bent on sanctifying the terrain of the new republic. In the early years of the nineteenth century, America's embryonic legends became increasingly tied to its landscape. The landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, for instance, took on the form of romantic narrative with Daniel Webster's public address at the Plymouth bicentennial in 1820, in which he spoke of the "genius of the place." Various sites along the Delaware River also became historicized with the publication of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and with numerous descriptions and depictions of George Washington crossing the river as General of the Continental Army, poised to surprise and defeat the British troops (p. 50). On a slightly smaller scale, the travel diaries of Yale University President Timothy Dwight, which found a wide audience from their initial 1821 publication through various revised and updated editions into the 1840s, also served to unite legend and landscape. His observations on the climate, terrain, inhabitants, and customs of various northeastern locales are sprinkled with vivid retellings of stories that serve to illustrate either the settlement of the area or the triumph of the inhabitants over adversity (an example that resonates locally is his gripping account of the 1790s Indian wars in Portland). Dwight's inclusion of such narratives within an ostensibly geographical volume provided historical and romantic "associations" for viewers confronted either with that specific landscape itself or a depiction of it.
Dwight's writings are the observations of a northeasterner on his own region, arguably an attempt to establish and present a local folklore to a broad audience. Several of the areas described by Dwight, including New York's Lake George and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, achieved a celebrity that straddled the national and the regional in significance. The popular lore associated with these locales, while available and known to a national audience, did not attain the "creation myth"· significance of the Pilgrims or the Mohicans; their appeal and importance lay in their ability to illustrate the character of a region through human conflict or experience. Prominent among the tales of the White Mountains recounted by Dwight is the grisly story of the Willey family, who fell victim to a rock slide in Crawford Notch in August 1826. As detailed in contemporary newspaper accounts and in numerous: other retellings through the end of the century, this family of innkeepers fled their home in the cradle of the Notch when late summer rains loosened earth from the mountainside and sent it hurtling toward them. In a tragic twist of fate, the slide narrowly missed the house, while the Willeys' flight placed them directly in the path of the slide, and all seven family members and two hired hands were either buried alive or flung by the force of the earth into the river and drowned. The house remained standing until 1899.
Aided by writers and artists, this gruesomely true story almost immediately took on the nature of a legend, a fictionalized account by Nathaniel Hawthorne and two paintings by Thomas Cole were produced in Codman's lifetime (above). In concert with then-current tastes, Charles Codman also painted the site of the disaster in his Willey House and Notch Looking South (p. 61). Corresponding with contemporary accounts that "Not a tree, nor the root of a tree: remained [in the path of the slide]" -- and in direct opposition to Cole's lush 1839 scene -- this view is bleak and bare in its treatment of the Notch, the raw and forbidding slopes of the mountains dwarfing the tiny house and two almost imperceptible travelers on the Notch road. The house, indeed, serves as an instant mnemonic for the Willey legend; everything about Codman's depiction, unlike Cole's, alludes to the tragedy that took place there and the enduring fragility of humanity in the face of nature's power. The appearance of this landscape is inseparable from the story associated with it.
Codman's depiction is an artful manipulation of this real landscape, equally concerned with narrative and geography. Appropriately, his inspiration for this scene, as well as other New Hampshire subjects, may just as easily have come from written descriptions as from personal experience in the region. The Bridge at Walpole, New Hampshire, for instance, may rely either on direct observation or on Timothy Dwight's comprehensive description of the 1803 structure with its "two sets of very long, and very firm, braces, fastened near the centre" and its surrounding townscape. Contemporary accounts indicate that Codman did, indeed, produce "noble white mountain views, taken from nature, which are very exact and finely painted" (emphasis mine), and the Crawford Notch area would have been accessible to him through a turnpike that connected northern Vermont with Portland. It seems unlikely, however, that Codman could have witnessed the Willey slide disaster in this stage. Judging by the utter absence of vegetation and the preponderance of rocks and boulders littering the landscape, the scene surely represents the area immediately post-rock slide (the tiny figures, further, may indicate Abel Crawford and a companion, who were said to have discovered the wreckage); but according to the initial newspaper accounts, earth, rocks, and felled trees so blocked the passage through the notch that "no appearance of the road . . . could be discovered" and. that "a turnpike will probably not be made through it again very soon if ever." Depicting the site in this woeful state, then, was a deliberate choice guided by the developing Willey legend, a choice that called upon the viewer to associate the landscape with this human tragedy and all its implications.
Although debate over the significance of the Willey slide disaster continues to this day, most historians agree that the tale struck a chord with 1820s Americans because of what it suggested about the relationship between human beings and nature. The Willeys, while regarded with sympathy as "amiable and respectable" victims of an unfortunate tragedy, were considered to have suffered as a result of abandoning their allegiance to and faith in nature's beneficence. Had the Willeys trusted that nature would observe the safety of their home and preserve it, and endeavored to face the slide in harmony with nature rather than in conflict with and fear of it, they would have escaped unscathed. Their story serves as a warning not only to those who remain ignorant of nature's power, but also those who might foolishly attempt to subdue it. A similar moral may be read in Codman's Shipwreck at Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth (p. 63), depicting a scene near Portland in which a sailing vessel is dashed against the rocks, observed by hapless onlookers including two clergymen with their Bibles outstretched in front of them. Shipwrecks in nineteenth-century American art were often symbolic of the crisis of the "Ship of State," the departure from the values which had formed the country. Whether or not Shipwreck at Pond Cove depicts an actual event, like The Willey House, it is convincing in showing that when nature's power, human frailty, and abandonment of faith are compounded, the result is disaster.
Such sentiments burgeoned into preservationism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Thomas Cole documented his thoughts on the subject in his "Essay on American Scenery": "I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away -- the ravages of the axe are daily increasing -- the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation." Motifs in Cole's paintings underscored this concern: the freshly cut tree stump (an element often used by Codman, as well) in the foreground of his Crawford Notch view, for instance, suggests humanity's blithe willingness to denude anew the forest only recently recovered from the 1826 rock slides. Other works by Cole make the same point by picturing the American landscape in its virginal, yet vulnerable, state; in some of these works a tiny figure of an American Indian serves to signify that the locale pictured is temporarily free from European encroachment.
Perhaps inspired by his knowledge of Cole's work, Charles Codman created several similar compositions with Indians enveloped in an unspoiled wilderness. Canoeing by the Rapids at Twilight (p. 64) stands out in Codman's oeuvre because of its lush, almost tropical, landscape forms and its unusually felicitous coloration -- ice-blue mountain crags, a jewel-green terrain, and a sky that melds tones of cerulean, rose, and gold. The landscape is clearly imagined, rather than observed -- nowhere in the northeast do such landscape forms coexist -- and it evokes associations with an earthly paradise that would have been recognizable to American viewers through Cole's experimentations with the subject. As such, it may also be seen to correspond with Cole's allegory of the young, fecund United States, Edenic in its bounty and potential.
Codman's inhabitants of paradise, however, provide a context and. a creation myth that differ from those of the Old Testament. Indians represented the ancient civilization of the American continent, and their presence in works like this one functions primarily in a nostalgic mode, as "a Romantic symbol of a vanished world." This is underscored by what little is discernible of their clothing -- shorthand suggestions of tribal costumes, rather than a hybrid of Anglo and traditional garb, as: contemporary northeastern Indians would have worn.
Such "noble savages" provide an association with American prehistory and pre-colonial New England -- a paradise waiting to be discovered. Codman's painting encourages emulation of the Indians' harmonious coexistence with nature (unlike the Willeys'), and since by the 1830s many Indians had either been displaced or adopted the Yankee New Englanders' residential patterns and were reduced to poverty, the viewer is able to posit him or herself as the inheritor of that enviable relationship of bygone times. Indeed, in many of Codman's landscapes, white settlers are shown communing with their surrounding wilderness in similar ways (pp. 66 and 67), enjoying their acquired physical and spiritual claims to the land.
This is what Codman is exploring in most of his numerous views of Portland's Diamond Cove: for example. These works contain some of Codman's most telling observations on the relationship between the landscape and the inhabitants of 1830s America. As cities in the northeast, such as Portland, began to develop, and the forests to disappear, Americans were struck by a desire simultaneously to escape into the wilderness and to cultivate it. The rise of tourist destinations such as Sebago Lake, also painted by Codman (p. 43), and the development of the "picnic grove," as seen in various paintings of Diamond Cove (p. 71), offered a solution by providing sites in which Americans could experience the outdoors within the confines of polite society. Diamond Cove as both an artistic subject and a destination increased in popularity in conjunction with the development of the "pic-nic," an arena in which city-dwellers could flee the congestion of the city and enjoy both their newfound affluence and leisure time while communing with nature.
The Diamond Cove paintings differ from those we have discussed thus far in that the landscape depicted, while real and specific, lacks the notoriety and drama of Crawford Notch; also, the figures, while generalized, are of the here and now, unlike the historically and racially remote Indians and the figures both seen and unseen in The Willey House. On a superficial level, it is not difficult to guess Codman's impetus for first painting this scene, despite its apparent lack of associations with drama or grandeur: he was commissioned to paint it by the individual who owned the land, James Deering. It was not the first time that Codman's choice of subject matter was driven by a patron. As a painter of portraits and decorative objects, he had been obliged to accommodate his patrons' tastes, but he also painted other landscapes at the request of Deering and other patrons. Kolorama (p. 26), a view by Codman of the famous Federal-era mansion in Washington, D.C., is a useful example; it is typical of the house portraits commissioned by wealthy American landowners beginning in the eighteenth century. His View of the Maine State House, Augusta (p. 49) was also painted in response to a commission, as was his much-lauded The Entertainment of the Boston Rifle Rangers by the Portland Rifle Club in Portland Harbor (p. 23). Encyclopedic in its description of contemporary architecture, dress, and ceremony, this composition was praised for its accuracy, and like Diamond Cove, it also enjoyed lasting fame after its completion and was reproduced in a print by Pendleton's Lithography in Boston (p. 38) and on the cover of sheet music for the tune Ranger's Quick Step.
But none of these scenes achieved the degree of obsession (for Codman) and emulation (for his scores of imitators) that Diamond Cove enjoyed. Diamond Cove's resounding and repeating success may be attributable, in part, to the fact that Codman's first experimentations with the subject appeared around the same time as his first truly glowing notice from John Neal in the Portland Advertiser of September 19, 1829. In this article, Neal states
that "It is high time" that Codman receive recognition for his paintings and that "among the whole" of American landscape painters, "there is none with a superior natural genius to that of Mr. Codman." Neal's praise may have encouraged Codman to revisit the theme of Diamond Cove, the subject that had inspired his largest and most ambitious paintings to date.
And revisit it he did, in numerous oils dating from 1829 until into the year of his death. The general composition remained consistent -- a circular cove framed by trees, a scattering of twisted roots and trunks in the foreground, and the tiny, brush-covered Crow Island hovering on the horizon line -- but the details: of the human traffic vary in compelling ways. An 1829 view of the cove (p. 67) relates closely to the Deering fireboard (suggesting that one may have stimulated the production of the other) in its depiction of stately, well-dressed picnic-goers positioned elegantly along the shoreline. In both of these paintings the sailboat owned by James Deering, which was used to ferry guests from the mainland to the cove, is moored in the center of the cove, with a passenger-filled dinghy making its way toward the picnic grove. (The former composition also adds a steamboat just to the left of Deering's vessel.) Despite the landscape's rather wild design, with its twisted tree limbs and blasted stumps, the figures serve to give the scene an aura of genteel and civilized concord within nature and society. Both the fireboard and the 1829 panel are seamless conflations of the twin ideal precedents in European landscape painting -- the stately, arcadian idylls of Claude Lorrain and the dark, tumultuous, untenable wastelands of Salvator Rosa. Here, as in Canoeing by the Rapids at Twilight, the figures are neither subjugated by the landscape nor overtly in control of it; instead, they glide through it with the grace and self-possession of the ships in the cove. This self-contained but unimpeded interaction with nature seems to propose a new and uniquely American mode of inhabiting and depicting the landscape, a mode for which the studied enjoyment of Diamond Cove was the perfect arena and metaphor.
Diamond Cove had already become a preferred spot for day-trippers before Codman first painted it, but his works seem to have helped to popularize it further. Poet Sylvester B. Beckett was dually inspired by nature's majesty and Codman's artistry when he contributed a poem, "Diamond Cove," to the 1836 literary journal Portland Sketch Book, calling Codman's views "almost as beautiful as the reality" in his brief introduction. The poem, which is accompanied by an engraving after a Codman painting (p. 56), begins, "A Beauteous Cove, amid the isles / That sprinkle Casco's winding bay / Where, like an Eden, nature smiles / In all her wild and rich array." Beckett's imagery again summons the association with an earthly paradise, a landscape which, while wild and untouched, is still an inviting one for human habitation
Another account published in the following year lauded alternative qualities in the "Elysium of our Bay." A sketch in a local newspaper offers details of a storm-plagued island excursion in which the members of the party drown their fears with at least two bottles of wine, one of which was retrieved "from a fissure in which [it had been] secreted the year before." Evidently, the cove was a place not only to mingle with society, but also to escape from its strictures during a time when the temperance movement was strong. Codman deals with this aspect of the cove with gusto in a large canvas (p. 71) in which the human presence evokes connotations less with Claude Lorrain or Salvator Rosa than with Hieronymous Bosch (the 16th-century Flemish painter of The Garden of Earthly Delights). Plainly visible in the lower right-hand corner is a disheveled gentleman surrounded by drained casks of spirits, while just beyond him picnic-goers couple off in the darkness of the woods. This depiction corresponds with publicly expressed anxieties that the Cove had become "desecrated" by those visiting it with "purposes of debauchery," exhibiting "drunken folly." No longer the polished and decorous figures of Codman's earliest views of the cove, humanity here is pictured in all of its messy and incontinent exuberance. Perhaps most surprising are the tiny naked figures shown diving off a spit of land in the upper right (p. 54); clearly, the trappings of society have been doffed and the path indeed paved for social intercourse, genteel or otherwise.
Notable, too, in this version of the Diamond Cove theme is the decreased "sublimity" of the landscape itself. What had been a primeval forest tempered only by humanity's civilizing presence is now a garden-like setting, a harmonious marriage not only between the beautiful and the sublime, but also the cultivated and the unspoiled. The proliferation of twisted and gnarled trees of earlier views is here reduced to just one beleaguered stem; in another view of probably the same period (p. 72) even that tree is reduced to just a single limbless stalk, scarcely punctuating the otherwise rose-gold, natural perfection of the scene. Largely free from figures, notwithstanding the hint of tiny passengers in a dinghy, the cove in this latter scene is pictured in its lovely completeness -- whole and perfect in and of itself.
It is this view that most closely resembles the engraving that was reproduced in the 1836 Portland Sketchbook and later in an 1839 literary journal, Opening Buds (p. 56), in which all the elements of Codman's composition are pared down to the essentials -- distant Crow Island, Deering's boat, curving shoreline, framing foliage with a single skeletal tree. This tranquil and largely unpeopled scene became the norm as copies after Codman proliferated. Some artists may have looked to original paintings by Codman in order to inspire their scenes, and indeed John Neal documents this practice in the catalogue for the 1838 Charitable Mechanic exhibition in Portland, citing "Four copies from Codman, by K. W. Davis, a common house-painter, with perhaps twenty or thirty hours of instruction from Codman." An oil-on-canvas version of Diamond Cove by an unknown artist (p. 73) may fit into this category; its thick cover of leaves and brush and its slightly murky palette may represent an attempt to imitate the depth and lushness of Codman's romantic scenes.
Other artists who had neither the benefit of personal instruction by Codman, nor perhaps even direct contact with his works, may have relied instead upon the engraving for their depictions of Diamond Cove. Accordingly, those compositions sometimes adopt the engraving's oval shape, and, further suggesting they were based on a monochromatic composition, display great liberties with their color palette, translating Codman's "richness, truth, and warm poetry" into fiery orange sunsets and vividly blue water. Prominent among the many iterations of the Diamond Cove compositions are numerous pastel on sandpaper drawings (pp. 59 and 75) -- four in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art alone -- presumably produced by school-aged young ladies as part of their artistic studies. (The carefully lettered "Eva" on the prow of the ship in the cove may be a signature.) Drawing and painting classes in the numerous private academies throughout New England encouraged students to copy popular engraved images from travel books or poetry journals, like Portland Sketch Book or Opening Buds, and pastel on sandpaper was a particularly advocated medium because of its ability to mimic, at less expense, the behavior of oil paints on canvas.
The cove was painted by professional artists, as well, both during and after Codman's lifetime. "Portland Painters" Harrison Bird Brown, John Greenleaf Cloudman, and Charles Frederick Kimball -- as well as the painting club founded by Kimball, the Brush'uns or Brushians -- often found inspiration on the tranquil shores of Great Diamond Island. Cloudman is notable as the only student of Codman's to achieve lasting fame as a painter, although his works were never as highly regarded as his teacher's. His Pleasant Cove, Diamond Island, Casco Bay (p. 76) that depicts a sandy patch of beach just west of the more celebrated site may represent an attempt to avert criticism that his work was derivative of Codman's, or to escape an association with the amateur artists who slavishly copied his master. That said, this painting is clearly part of the lineage and the artistic tradition set into motion by Codman's Diamond Cove -- in art as well as reality, the shores of Great Diamond continued to be a place where art, leisure, and society intermingled.
Still unanswered, however, is the question of why this subject, and Codman's treatment of it, held such a broad appeal. We have already discussed the evolving attitude of Americans toward nature and how Diamond Cove provided an arena in which those attitudes could be enacted. We have also explored how Codman's representations of the cove provided a "solution" for the opposing paradigms of European painting within the context of this specific American landscape. Remaining unresolved is Diamond Cove's apparent lack of associations with historical grandeur or human thought or action, notwithstanding the heroic measures taken by our 1837 picnickers to enjoy their illicit refreshment despite stormy weather. How was a site known primarily for its pleasantness and frivolity to inspire the "strong or valued emotions" and "train[s] of feelings and recollections" that Archibald Alison, and the many Americans who relied upon his theory, counted as so crucial to a true work of art?
A possible answer may lie in reminding ourselves of Thomas Cole's insistence that American associations lay not merely in the past, but in the present and the future. Unlike European artists depicting the scenes of antiquity, American landscape artists were aware not only of the history of their subjects, but also their potential to increase in meaning and import and become the "sanctified soil" of the future. Key to this potential was the ability of the artist to bring fame to a previously untrammeled spot, much as Thomas Cole had done for the Catskills and the White Mountains, by making views of their majesty available to the eyes, minds, and living rooms of the American public. In Cole's own words, the American landscape had "an unbounded capacity for improvement by art." an ability to grow in significance from simply being noticed and depicted. Thus Codman's Diamond Cove, and its countless iterations, eloquently provided its own associations with Maine and America's enlightened relationship with nature and the blossoming passion for art and culture which would characterize the rest of the century.
In 1845 Neal complained of the Diamond Cove views that '"Codman multiplied his copies of this piece till he got careless as to their execution," and in his brief biography of Codman in Portland Illustrated of 1874 he somewhat dismissively writes of Codman "throw[ing] off... 'Pleasant--Coves,' and 'Diamond-Coves,' by the half-dozen, being always sure of a customer." But even while suggesting that the subject's popularity had a degenerative effect on the quality of Codman's paintings, Neal acknowledges fully the appeal of the scene. In 1864 he waxes poetic over his own Codman "September scene, with the glimmery atmosphere of Casco Bay," and states that Codman's Diamond Coves .are growing richer and mellower, and more valuable every year." Neal's point was to demonstrate how paintings by Codman had appreciated in monetary value; however, his words might also be taken to mean that Diamond Cove, both in art and in actuality, had become increasingly esteemed as part of the canon of nineteenth-century Portland culture. Thirty-five years after Codman first trained his eye on the scene for James Deering, Diamond Cove had become not only a firm fixture in the everyday life of Portland, but also a part of its art, its history, and its future legend.
This essay is derived, in part, from my "A Portrait
of Nature: Diamond Cove and the American Landscape" in A Treasured
Heritage: The Art and History of Great Diamond Island (Portland: Portland
Museum of Art, Maine, 1997). Then as now, I thank Earle G. Shettleworth,
Jr., and William David Barry for their groundbreaking research on Codman
and Diamond Cove, respectively, which laid the foundation for my examination
of those subjects. Special thanks also to Gretchen Drown, who provided sources
that are critical to the structure of this essay.
1. Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester, The Flowering of American Folk Art 1776-1876 (New York: The Viking Press in cooperation with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974), 191.
2. See John Neal, "Painting," The Yankee (April 30. 1828). "Mr. C[odman] is now painting landscapes.... Two that we have, and three or four that our friends have, are admirable."
3. At least five fireboards were created for the mansion around 1829; all but one were sold in the 1949 auction of the mansion's contents. Photographic documentation of the fireboards exists in a photo album in the collection of Deering family descendants. For more information on Deering's home, see William David Barry and Randolph Dominic, "Mr. Deering and His Mansion," Portland Magazine 51 no 1 (February/March 1990), 85-87.
4. William David Barry, "Early Pleasure Boats on Casco Bay," The Independent, April 13, 1979, 16. While the cove's name appears to have been well established by the 1820s, the island was still officially known by its colonial name of "Hog" or "Hogg" island until the second half of the nineteenth century, when its name was formally changed to Great Diamond.
5. Nineteenth-century Portland historian William Goold, quoted in Barry, "Early Pleasure Boats on Casco Bay," 16.
6. The steamboat Kennebec made daily, if somewhat weather-dependent, stops at the islands in Casco Bay beginning in 1822. See William Frappier, Steamboat Yesterdays: The Steamboat Era in Maine's Calendar Islands Region (Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1993), 13-14.
7. Historical significance might be gleaned from a gathering on Great Diamond Island (then called Hog Island) in 1759 to celebrate the British victory over Quebec; however, it is noteworthy that the only historical incident on Great Diamond of any note took the form of a picnic. See William David Barry, "Diamond Cove Recovered," Maine Antique Digest (January/February, 1979),10-C.
8. William Cullen Bryant bemoans this attitude toward American scenery in his third lecture on poetry, "On Poetry in its Relation to Our Age and Country," delivered at the New York Athenaeum in April 1825. Prose Prose Writings of William Cullen Bryant, 2 vols, ed. Park Godwin (New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1884), 1: 24-25.
9. See Archibald Alison, Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (Edinburgh, 1811; repr. Boston: Cummings and Hilliard, 1812). The primacy of associationism to early American landscape painting is dealt with in Ralph N. Miller,"Thomas Cole and Alison's Essays on Taste," New York History 37 (1956), pp. 281-99.
10. Thomas Cole, "Essay on American Scenery," The American Magazine 1 (January 1836): 11.
11. Webster, quoted in Joseph A. Conforti, Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 184.
12. See Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-York and New-England, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (New Haven: Timothy Dwight, 1822), 2: 171-208.
13. Dwight chronicles this story in The Northern Traveller, and Northern Tour, fourth ed. (New York: Harper, 1831).
14. John T. H. Mudge's "Historical Epilogue" to Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales of the White Mountains provides a comprehensive overview, as well as reprints, of the most important accounts of the Willey disaster. John T. B. Mudge, "The Willey Slide Disaster and Mountain Culture" in Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tales of the White Mountains (Etna, N.H.: The Durand Press, 2001), pp. 79ff.
15. Hawthorne's short story "The Ambitious Guest" was originally published in 1835 in the annual "gift book" The Token (Boston: S. G. Goodrich); it was later included in his 1845 collection of short stories, Twice Told Tales. Eric Edward Purchase makes reference to an 1828 painting by Cole entitled Distant View of the Slides that Destroyed the Whilley [sic] Family in the Willey Slide: The Problem of Landscape in Nineteenth-century Narrative (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1994), 145.
16. The Reverend Carlos Wilcox, "Account of the Late Slide from the White Mountains," New York Spectator (September 15, 1826), reprinted in Mudge, "Historical Epilogue," 87.
17. Codman's painting (collection of Douglas and Anne Holsclaw) corresponds remarkably with Dwight's description of the Walpole bridge: "Two sets of very long, and very firm, braces, fastened near the centre, extend to the rocks on both sides of the river. . . . Its figure is a very obtuse arch. . . . A few rods from it, on the Eastern bank, Mr. Geyer has erected a large elegant mansion, fronted towards the river, with handsome appendages. At a small distance from this house ascends, perpendicularly, the Fall mountain; a bald, rocky gloomy precipice. . .' Dwight. Travels in New-York and New-England, 2: 97.
18. Portland Advertiser (August 15, 1833). It is also possible that Willey House and Notch Looking South is the same as the Notch-House exhibited in Portland's 1838 Charitable Mechanic exhibition, which John Neal describes as "original" (in contrast to a copy), although "borrowed largely from [Henry Cheever] Pratt." John Neal. "Fine Arts," First Exhibition and Fair of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association (Portland: Published by the Board of Managers, for the Association, 1838), 38
19. Wilcox, "Account of the Late Slide from the White Mountains," 94.
20. An overview of critical approaches to the Willey slide is provided in Purchase, "The Willey Slide," passim.
21. Wilcox, "Account of the Late Slide from the White Mountains," 96.
22. See Purchase, "The Willey Slide," 92-94.
23. David C. Miller provides an overview of the shipwreck's significance in nineteenth-century American and European art in his "The Iconology of Wrecked or Stranded Boats in Mid to Late Nineteenth-Century American Culture," American Iconology, ed. David C. Miller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 187-208.
24. Codman is known to have painted the wreck of the Royal Tar, a Canadian steamer with a menagerie on board that burned and sank near Vinalhaven Island on October 25, 1836 (his painting is mentioned in the Eastern Argus of December 10, 1836 and in the Daily Eastern Argus of January 24, 1837). Codman also placed an advertisement in the Portland Advertiser of April 18, 1837, attempting to buy back "the Painting representing the wreck of the Barque North Star and Brig Moro." Whether Shipwreck at Pond Cove depicts either of the latter wrecks remains to be determined.
25. Cole, "Essay on American Scenery," The American Magazine 1 (January 1836), 11.
26. As, for instance, in The Falls of the Kaatterskill (1826; Warner Collection of the Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, Alabama).
27. Charles Codman and Thomas Cole both participated in Boston Athenaeum exhibitions in 1828, 1830, and 1834. See Robert F. Perkins Jr. and William J. Gavin III, eds, The Boston Athenaeum Art Exhibition Index 1827-1874 (Boston: The Library of the Boston Athenaeum, 1980), 37-.38.
28. Cole's 1828 Garden of Eden (which had a companion painting, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden) depicting tiny figures of Adam and Eve in a similarly lush landscape, was widely known at the time. See Franklin Kelly, Thomas Cole's Paintings of Eden (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1994), 17.
29. Edward J. Nygren, "From View to Vision" in Views and Visions: American Landscape before 1830, ed. Edward J. Nygren (Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1986), 63. William Truettner also discusses the imagery of indigenous American races in his introduction "Ideology and Image: Justifying Westward Expansion" to The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 (Washington, D.C, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), 43-45, particularly in light of the differences between depictions of Indians on either side of the Mississippi.
30. An 1825 portrait of Penobscot Indian Sarah Molasses by Bangor-area painter Jeremiah Pearson Hardy reveals a more authentic period costume. See Gertrud A. Mellon and Elizabeth E Wilder, Eds., Maine and Its Role in American Art, 1740-1963 (New York: The Viking Press, 1963), 72.
31. Information about the picnic in the art and everyday life of nineteenth-century America is taken from Angela Miller, "Nature's Transformations: The Meaning of the Picnic Theme in Nineteenth-Century American Art," Winterthur Portfolio 24, no. 1 (Spring 1989): 113-38, as well as the accompanying "Picnicking in the Northeastern United States, 1840-1900," by Mary Ellen W. Hern (137-52).
32. An undated note from Charles Codman to James Deering in the collection of the Maine Historical Society indicates that it accompanied a landscape painting of "original design," and that another, a local view, was forthcoming. The Portland Museum of Art's Fancy Piece (1829; p. 25), which bears an inscription placing it in the collection of James Deering, is thought to be the first to which Codman refers; Landscape, Said to be Deering Oaks (circa 1829), may be the latter.
33. Edward Nygren cites depictions of villas and country seats as one of America's first forms of landscape painting in "From View to Vision," in Views and Visions: American Landscape before 1830, pp. 23-27. The estate of Kalorama (meaning "beautiful view") descended from original owner Joel Barlow to his sister-in-law Clara Baldwin Bomford after 1818. Bomford is thought to have had connections to Portland's Preble family and may have become acquainted with Codman while visiting in Maine. Appraisal by Maury A. Brown (February 29, 1972), collections of the Department of State, Washington, D.C.
34. "It is one of those subjects that the Painter can take but few liberties with: he is compelled here to adhere to truth, and must trust for his success in the fidelity in the representation and the mechanical execution of the Painting. Mr. Codman has been very successful in both." Eastern Argus (October 29, 1830). The Pendleton print is in the collection of the Maine Historical Society, Portland, and Ranger's Quick Step is in the collection of the Bostonian Society.
35. John Neal, "Codman's Pictures," Portland Advertiser (September 19, 1829).
36. This painting, now owned by the Portland Public Library, was exhibited in the "painting room" of Portland artist Harrison Bird Brown in 1869. The listing in the newspaper confirms that the painting had already been donated to the Library. Portland Daily Press (January 28, 1869).
37. William David Barry identifies the boat as Deering's in his "Diamond Cove Recovered," 10-C, citing contemporary descriptions of the boat as evidence.
38. Thomas Cole points to this quality in the American landscape, specifically New Hampshire's White Mountains, stating that nature had "nowhere so completely married together grandeur and loveliness -- there he sees the sublime melting into the beautiful, the savage tempered by the magnificent." Cole, "Essay on American Scenery," 5.
39. S[ylvester] B. Beckett, "Diamond Cove" in Portland Sketch Book, ed. Mrs. Anne S. Stephens (Portland: Colman & Chisholm, 1836).
40. Bell Tracy, "A Pic-nic at Diamond Cove," Portland Transcript (July 15, 1837), 108.
41. The history of drinking in Maine was the subject of the exhibition Rum, Riot, and Reform: Maine and the History of American Drinking at the Maine Historical Society/Center for Maine History, summer-fall 1998. A virtual exhibition resides at www. mainehistory.com/rrr. html.
42. "Diamond Cove," Portland Transcript (August 23, 1851).
43. Neal, "Fine Arts," Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, p. 39.
44. Neal, "Fine Arts," Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, p. 37. Neal used this phrase to describe a Codman Diamond Cove in the exhibition.
45. See Martha Severens, "Recent Accession: Pastel of Great Diamond Cove," Portland Museum of Art Bulletin (April 1988), 1.
46. For information on the Brush'uns, see L. L. H., "The Brushians: A Sketch of Genial Sketchers," Pine Tree Magazine 5 (April 1906): 213-223; also, Elaine Ward Casazza, The Brushlans (Limington: Elaine Ward Casazza, 1996).
47. Cloudman's obituary in the Portland Transcript of October 19, 1892 confirms that Cloudman "obtained a chance to enter the studio of Charles Codman and there he devoted himself to the mastery of the technicalities of his profession."
48. Alison, Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste, 27.
49. Cole, "Essay on American Scenery," 8.
50. Neal, "Cole's Gallery of Paintings," [Portland] Weekly Tribune and Bulletin (July 27, 1845), 1.
51. Neal, "Our Landscape Painters -- Charles Codman," Portland Illustrated (Portland: W. S. Jones, 1874), 30.
52. Neal, "Our Painters -- Charles Codman," Northern Monthly 1, no. 6 (August 1864): 364. Neal also says, "His 'Diamond Cove,' many times repeated, most of our people are acquainted with," underscoring the wide regional familiarity with the composition.
About the Author
Jessica Skwire Routhier was at time of publication of the essay Assistant
Curator at the
Portland Museum of Art.
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