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Painting Lake George: 1774-1900
June 5 - September 11, 2005
(above: John Frederick Kensett, American (1816-1872), Landing at Sabbath Day Point, Lake Geroge, c. 1853, oil on canvas, 10 x 15 11/16 inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. Sigourney Thayer 1968.7.1)
Painting Lake George, 1774-1900 explores, for the first time, the extraordinary depth and range of paintings that depict the "Queen of American Lakes." The largest lake in New York's Adirondack region, Lake George with its placid waters rimmed by majestic mountains, was the perfect inspiration for paintings that evoked the sublime wilderness, the beautiful, and the picturesque, as well as the topographical prospect, the panoramic view, and the agrarian ideal. The forty-five paintings selected for this exhibition are culled from a new and growing census of all paintings of Lake George made between 1774 and 1900. This selection of works documents a diversity of styles and interpretations -- from the breathtaking presentations of sky, mountain, and lake, to the dramatic fires and storms, to the more intimate genre scenes represented by the artists. (right: John William Casilear, American (1811-1893), View on Lake Geroge, 1857, oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 29 15/16 inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sturges, Jr. 1978.6.1)
To shed light on these areas, the exhibition is divided into four thematic sections. Nostalgia for a Brave Beginning covers early views of the lake that commemorate its role in American history. Works by Ezra Ames, Thomas Cole, and Thomas Davies are featured. The section titled A Sublime Beauty presents landscapes by artists who envisioned the lake as an unspoiled wilderness such as Franklin Anderson, Samuel Colman, Jasper F. Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Doughty, Sanford R. Gifford, and Alexander H. Wyant. Landscapes in A Pastoral Paradise depict Lake George as the embodiment of the picturesque landscape -- a domesticated wilderness -- with paintings by Julie Hart Beers, Alfred Thompson Bricher, Thomas Chambers, Robert Melvin Decker, William Hart, and David Johnson. Life Along the Lake examines close-up views and genre scenes such as picnics and boating parties and features works by William Bliss Baker, John Bunyan Bristol, James Buttersworth, Nelson Augustus Moore, and George W. Waters.
In the past, exhibitions devoted to American landscape painting have chiefly focused on the diverse scenery of the Hudson River School, the first landscape painting movement in America. Beginning with Thomas Cole, every Hudson River School artist visited and painted Lake George. In fact, Lake George -- after the Hudson River itself, the Catskill Mountains and Niagara Falls -- was one of the most popular sketching grounds for artists of this school as well as their myriad followers and imitators. Yet, the lake has received little attention, leaving a considerable gap in the art historical record. The exhibition and catalogue seek to fill this void by unveiling new research on the artistic, cultural, and social history of the lake. (left: Martin Johnson Heade, American (1819-1904), Lake George, 1862, oil on canvas, 26 x 49 3/8 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of Maxim Karolik, 64.430)
What distinguished Lake George from other popular locations was its place in American history. As the site of several military campaigns during both the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the American Revolution (1775-1781), it captivated the hearts and minds of nineteenth century Americans who were increasingly nostalgic about their history. Artists and tourists from across the nation flocked to Lake George to view this dramatic landscape steeped in historic associations and nostalgia, and shrouded in natural beauty. During the nineteenth century, the lake was an integral part of the North American "grand tour" along with the Catskill Mountains, Niagara Falls, and the White Mountains. Far from the battlegrounds of the Civil War, this thirty-two mile long lake, surrounded by forests and dotted with one hundred and seventy two islands, offered well-to-do vacationers a respite from the increasingly urbanized and industrialized cities of America. Its history spoke of a time when the country was unified against a common enemy, rather than divided against itself. Mementos of its beauty were thus in high demand, enticing an entire cross section of the first- and second-generation Hudson River School painters to repeatedly visit its shores. In turn, the popularity of Lake George grew through the exhibition and publication of paintings and engravings of this fashionable resort. (right: John Frederick Kensett, American (1816-1872), Lake George, 1869, oil on canvas, 44 1/8 x 66 3/8 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, 1914. From the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup (15.30.61). Photograph ©1992 The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, located just seven miles from Lake George, has organized the exhibition, which is curated by The Hyde's curator Erin Budis Coe. Also contributing to the exhibition is consulting scholar and guest essayist, Gwendolyn Owens, author of Golden Day, Silver Night and Nature Transcribed: The Landscapes and Still Lifes of David Johnson. The Museum has long been involved in researching the history of Lake George paintings. In fact, The Hyde was the first institution to mount an exhibition devoted to this topic in 1976, and since then a number of new pictures have emerged and many new names have been added to the list of artists associated with the lake. Therefore, this exhibition, while the result of new research, also draws upon years of accumulated knowledge and expertise in this area. Paintings, ranging from the best known pictures in major museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the National Gallery of Art, to lesser-known works in galleries and private collections, are featured. In addition a small selection of watercolors, prints, photographs, and archival documents round out the visual presentation.
A fully illustrated 88-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue is distributed by Syracuse University Press and includes essays by Erin Budis Coe and Gwendolyn Owens and a census recording over 750 paintings of Lake George up to 1900, making it a valuable tool for the historian and the collector long after the exhibition ends.
Working check list of the exhibition as of 5/3/05