Frederic Remington: Recreation in the Adirondacks

Not all post-Civil War artists saw the wilderness as a place for quiet contemplation, and as a result, competing opinions of the Adirondacks, its use, and its intrinsic value emerged in post-Civil War art.  With the publication of Adventures in the Wilderness; or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks by William H.H. Murray in 1869, the Adirondacks saw a growth in ecotourism during the late 19th century and early 20th century (Mandel 19).  Murray’s book heralded the health benefits of visiting the Adirondacks and promoted the region as a fun, easily accessible, and relaxing vacation spot in the woods.  Wilderness vacations were quite attractive to many city dwellers who had money to spend and who desired fresh air and quiet.  Murray included detailed stories of his own adventures in the region, encouraging many travelers and artists to camp, fish, hunt, hike, and trap in the Adirondacks.  The paintings of Frederic Remington and Winslow Homer, who enjoyed outdoor sports themselves, speak largely to this post-war vision of the Adirondacks as a vacationland and a space for human exploration and recreation.

Frederic Remington 

Unexpected Shot (1896)

Frederic Sackrider Remington is largely known for his paintings of cowboys and Native Americans riding horses and firing guns, but he also spent a considerable amount of time painting, camping, and canoeing in the Adirondacks.  Remington was born in Canton, New York, a small town just north of the Adirondack Park (Mandel 97).  As a teen, Remington began camping at Cranberry Lake in the western Adirondacks and he returned to the lake every summer until 1899 (Mandel 97).  As someone who enjoyed the outdoor recreation sensationalized by William H.H. Murray, Remington was fond of painting action scenes of people in nature.  For example, Unexpected Shot (1896) (right) displays men hunting in the woods of the northeast. In addition, some of Remington's letters to friends include sketches of “river running” that heralded the park as a haven for recreation (St. Lawrence University). Remington’s action scenes reflect his own fondness for outdoor activities and also promoted the Adirondacks to everyone as a place for thrilling activity.

Remington’s paintings and illustrations also portray shifting opinions on the relationship between humans and nature.  Contrary to Thomas Cole’s more patronizing view of the environment's superiority to humans, Remington conveys a more harmonious, coexistence of humans and nature (Shapiro & Hassrick 134).  This relationship is demonstrated in Coming to the Call (1905) (lower left) and Evening on a Canadian Lake (1905) (lower right), which show the reflections of the canoe and canoeists in still water, a subtlety that invites the human figures into the quiet wilderness (Shapiro & Hassrick 134).  Although these two paintings are not of the Adirondacks specifically, Remington places people in his paintings in natural, non-disruptive ways, championing human interaction with the environment, and successively, the idea of sports and recreation in the wilderness in general (Shapiro & Hassrick 134).

                                                                        Coming to the Call (1905)                                                        Evening on a Canadian Lake (1905)


Works Cited

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.

Saint Lawrence University. Frederic Remington Collection. Digital Collections at St.Lawrence University.  Accessed March 28, 2015.

Shaprio, Michael E., & Hassrick, Peter H. Frederic Remington: The Masterworks. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988. Print.


Image Sources (in order of appearance)

Banner painting courtesy of:

Unexpected Shot courtesy of:

Coming to the Call courtesy of:

Evening on a Candadian Lake courtesy of: