A persistent, often fierce wind blows across the barren stone peak that is Mount Washington. Above the tree line very little grows, and yet there’s always life here, as scientists, tourists and adventurers share the 6,288-foot mountain. For more than two centuries, the Northeast’s highest summit has captured the American imagination. Mount Washington: The Crown of New England, on view at the Currier Museum of Art from October 1, 2016 through January 16, 2017, brings together for the first time many of the most important early images of the Mount Washington region and it returns Albert Bierstadt’s monumental 10-foot-wide painting, The Emerald Pool (1870), to New England for the first time since it was painted.
The exhibition includes 40 paintings and a rich selection of historic prints, vintage photographs, scientific reports and guidebooks that helped make Mount Washington an international symbol of the American wilderness and its scenic wonders. The Crown of New England is a gorgeous love letter to the Northeast’s tallest mountain, and one of the largest exhibitions presented by the Currier.
“People are fascinated by the beauty and majesty of Mount Washington, and for good reason,” said Andrew Spahr, Currier director of collections and exhibitions. “This exhibition will present major paintings by Thomas Cole and John Kensett (1816-1872) that helped alter the course of American art in the 19th century as well as prints, photographs and early guide books that made the region one of the most popular tourist attractions in America in the mid-1800s.”
The Art of Mount Washington
Images of the White Mountains began appearing in the early 1820s, but it was the paintings of Thomas Cole (1801-1848) that first attracted the larger artistic community. Cole’s View in the White Mountains (1827) pictured a snowcapped Mount Washington rising above a verdant valley, the peak silhouetted against dark clouds. The image was infused with a sense of national pride, the mountain’s rough, craggy pinnacle named after America’s first national hero, represented a strong, confident America that could weather any storm.
The tremendous artistic potential of Mount Washington was fully realized in the early 1850s. New Hampshire-born artist Benjamin Champney (1817-1907) and New York painter John Kensett spent several weeks during the summer of 1850 sketching in and around North Conway. Their summer sketches were later worked up as oils for exhibition in New York and Boston, to strong critical acclaim. Kensett’s Mount Washington from the Valley of Conway (1851), became well known through a popular engraving of the time. In turn, these works of art helped boost tourism in the region, especially among individuals seeking adventures away from the city.
During the 1840s and 1850s, the region was also the subject of some of the first landscape photographs ever taken. These images were in some cases experiments with the newly invented and in others served as souvenirs of visits to the scenic White Mountains, further promoting the area. Soon, the availability of accommodations near Crawford and Pinkham Notch, the Conway Valley and eventually atop the mountain, meant artists, scientists and adventurous tourists could spend more time exploring the area.
The Science of Mount Washington
Mount Washington is known internationally for being the home of the world’s worst weather. It regularly records winds that can change from a light breeze to hurricane strength within hours. One wicked 231 mph wind in April 1934 retains the world record for highest wind ever observed on land. Artists often worked together in partnership with scientists, botanists, geologists and meteorologists, who needed accurate yet evocative images that would help bring their research to life visually. Text-based descriptions were enlivened with drawings, some reproduced using the newly invented mediums chromolithography and photography. Artists, many of whom studied sciences such as geology, in turn benefitted from understanding the specific processes that shaped the White Mountain landscape, giving them a more accurate sense of the scenes they committed to paper or canvas.
About the Exhibition
The exhibition includes 146 works of art and related historical objects, presented in mostly chronological order across all three of the Museum’s special exhibition galleries. It begins with the first major paintings and prints of the region, dating back to 1827.
The exhibition concludes with a dramatic presentation of Bierstadt’s The Emerald Pool, much as it would have been displayed in late-19th century venues as it toured the United States and Europe. The painting won a medal at the International Exposition in Vienna in 1873.
A fascinating interactive space will offer visitors of all ages opportunities to explore the art and science of the region. It will include displays of real-time weather conditions atop Mount Washington, as well as incredible videos taken from the summit, thanks to our collaboration with the Mount Washington Observatory in North Conway, N.H. Visitors can view stereographs, make art, read colorful tales of the region from period guidebooks and the exhibition includes a fun family guide.
Tickets $5/person in addition to general Museum admission.
The Currier Museum of Art, located at 150 Ash Street, Manchester, N.H., is open every day except Tuesday. It is home to an internationally respected collection of European and American paintings, decorative arts, photographs and sculpture, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and O’Keeffe. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the engaging exhibitions, the dynamic programs ranging from art-making and lectures to music, a Museum Shop, and an airy, light-filled café. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the Museum. The Currier welcomes visitors with disabilities and special needs. We are wheelchair accessible and offer FM headsets for sound amplification at many public programs. For more information, visit CURRIER.ORG or call 603.669.6144, x108.