Descriptive Lanscapes

Landscape artists of the early-mid 1800s, perplexed by the wild ruggedness of the Adirondacks, aspired to record and explain the foreign, uncharted region.  Thomas Cole, a co-founder of the Hudson River School, explained that the wildness of the Adirondacks was especially distinctive to Europeans because in civilized Europe the primitive features of scenery have long since been destroyed or modified (Cole in Mandel 15).  Drawn by such a unique environment and motivated to accurately illustrate the astounding scenery, many painters constructed large, detailed, documentary-like depictions of landscapes, some of which were intended to assist human understanding and development of the land.

Charles Cromwell Ingham and The Great Adirondack Pass

Charles Cromwell Ingham’s The Great Adirondack Pass, Painted on the Spot (1837) (right) is representative of artwork intended to describe and promote human settlement of the new environment.  In August 1837, Ingham accompanied Archibald McIntyre  and Ebenezer Emmons on a journey to survey McIntyre’s 100,000-acre tract in Essex County (Mandel 73).  Ingham’s job was to paint the area known as Indian Pass, which contained extensive amounts of ore deposits that would later fuel McIntyre’s Adirondack Iron & Steel Company (Mandel 73).  Despite the fact that Ingham painted the scene on the spot, travelers later commented on the accuracy of his painting (Mandel 73). Ingham’s focus on accurately capturing the entirety of the scene and its details reflects the painting's purpose as part of a geological survey of the region and its resources (Mandel 73).  Overall, the painting captures the awe and wonder that characterized early settlers’ views of the Adirondacks and their subsequent desires to describe and document the foreign landscape in order to progress human knowledge and use of land.

The Detailed Landscapes of Asher B. Durand                                                         

Asher B. Durand’s paintings of Lake George and nearby forests also demonstrate attention to detail and documentary-like views, which again suggest early settlers’ views of the Adirondacks as novel, uncharted territory.  Similar to map makers and surveyors, Durand stressed the importance of line and accuracy over color and personal expression (Mandel 16).  These notions are apparent in his paintings Untitled: Boulder and Trees (1858) (not shown) and Butternut Tree at Hague (1862) (right).  In the latter painting, Durand shows the shape of the limbs and the texture of the bark on the butternut trees, recording the growth of the tree from the crevice between two boulders with such accuracy that the painting lends itself as a valuable reference of the prior state of the forest (Ferber 104). This painting, like maps and landscape paintings intended for geological surveys, were influenced by artists’ amazement of the unique region and their subsequent desire to expound upon and rationalize the foreign landscape.

Some of Durand's later paintings exhibit less attention to line and detail, but they still capture the expansiveness of the Adirondack landscape.  In fact, Durand's paintings Black Mountain from the Harbor Islands, Lake Geroge, N.Y. (lower left) and Adirondack Mountains, N.Y. (lower right) suppress some of the specific details that characterized paintings like Butternut Tree at Hague, but Durand still attends to the specific topography of the land (Ferber 98).  These large panoramic views also resemble that of Ingham's The Great Adirondack Pass, serving the purpose of a photograph depicting the vastness of the Adirondack landscape (Ferber 107).  Again, these paintings reflect 19th century artists' desires to explain and document the Adirondack region.


          Black Mountain from Harbor Islands, Lake George, N.Y.                                  Adirondack Mountains (1870)


Works Cited

Ferber, Linda S. The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision. New York, New York: International Publications Inc, 2009. Print.

Mandel, P. C. Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of The Adirondack Museum (A. W. Gilborn, Ed.). New York: The Adirondack Museum, 1990. Print.


Image Sources (in order of appearance)

Banner and Black Mountain courtesy of:

Butternut Tree at Hague courtesy of:

The Great Adirondack Pass, Painted on the Spot courtesy of: