White Mountain art 1820 –1870

White Mountain art is the body of work created during the 19th century by over four hundred artists who painted landscape scenes of the White Mountains of New Hampshire in order to promote the region and, consequently, sell their works of art

In the early part of the 19th century, artists ventured to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to sketch and paint Many of the first artists were attracted to the region because of the 1826 tragedy of the Willey family, in which nine people lost their lives in a mudslide These early works portrayed a dramatic and untamed mountain wilderness Dr Robert McGrath describes a Thomas Cole (1801–1848) painting titled Distant View of the Slide that Destroyed the Willey Family thus: ” an array of broken stumps and errant rocks, together with a gathering storm, suggest the wildness of the site while evoking an appropriate ambient of darkness and desolation” The images stirred the imagination of Americans, primarily from the large cites of the northeast, who traveled to the White Mountains to view the scenes for themselves Others soon followed: innkeepers, writers, scientists, and more artists The White Mountains became a major attraction for tourists from the New England states and beyond The circulation of paintings and prints depicting the area enabled those who could not visit, because of lack of means, distance, or other circumstance, to appreciate its beauty

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Transportation improved to the region; inns and later grand resort hotels, complete with artists in residence, were built Benjamin Champney (1817–1907), one of the early artists, popularized the Conway Valley Other artists preferred the Franconia area, and yet still others ventured to Gorham, Shelburne and the communities of the north Although these artists all painted similar scenes within the White Mountains, each artist had an individual style that characterized his work These landscape paintings in the Hudson River tradition, however, eventually fell out of favor with the public, and, by the turn of the century, the era for White Mountain art had ended

On August 28, 1826, torrential rains in the White Mountains caused a mudslide on Mount Willey The Willey couple, with their five children, lived in a small house in the notch between Mounts Willey and Webster They evacuated their home with the help of two hired men to escape the landslide, but all seven Willeys and the two hired men died in the avalanche The Willey home was left standing Rescuers later found an open Bible on a table in the home, indicating that the family retreated in haste

The news of the Willey tragedy quickly spread across the nation During the ensuing years, it would become the subject of literature, drawings, local histories, scientific journals, and paintings One such example is the painting by Thomas Hill (1829–1908) titled Crawford Notch, the site of the Willey tragedy before the slide The Willey disaster started a new awareness of the American landscape and the raw wilderness of the White Mountains This allure — tragedy and untamed nature — was a powerful draw for the early artists who painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire Thomas Cole (1801–1848) in his diary entry of October 6, 1828, wrote, “The site of the Willey House, with its little patch of green in the gloomy desolation, very naturally recalled to mind the horrors of the night when the whole family perished beneath an avalanche of rocks and earth”

The incident provided the basis for an 1835 story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled “The Ambitious Guest”

The scenes these artists painted became American icons, certainly to the people of New England As tourists took these White Mountain paintings home, they were widely dispensed throughout the country Today, these paintings are discovered as far away as California