Published: March 6, 2007
The New Hampshire Historical Society presents a major new exhibition and publication exploring how artists and consumers perceived the natural wonders of the White Mountains. “Consuming Views: Art and Tourism in the White Mountains, 1850‱900,” is on view at the society’s Museum of New Hampshire History through May 6.
The beauty of the White Mountains has inspired visitors to New Hampshire for two centuries. How people have perceived the mountains, however, has changed over time, and each generation has found something new and meaningful for themselves and for the culture in which they live.
Guest curators John J. Henderson, a former trustee of the society, and Roger E. Belson (co-author of the website www.whitemountainart.com) worked for three years with society staff, scholars and volunteers in researching and developing this exhibition. Thirty-seven paintings from public and private collections selected for the exhibition present a compelling perspective of the White Mountain locale. Artists include Jasper Francis Cropsey, Thomas Hill, Benjamin Champney and Frank Shapleigh, as well as lesser-known talents such as Bradford Freeman, Franklin Stanwood and Erdix Tenney Wilson.
“This is the first time since the 1980s that such a collection of exceptional, large format White Mountain paintings have been exhibited in one New Hampshire location,” Belson said. “‘Consuming Views’ provides an opportunity to learn about and to see masterworks by many lesser-known artists who created paintings that were as good as those done by the more well-known Hudson River School artists.”
By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the region’s magnificent, yet varied, scenery attracted tourists and artists from cities throughout the Northeast, as well as from Europe. More than 400 artists are known to have painted White Mountain scenes before 1900.
Artists who visited New Hampshire between 1850 and 1900 interpreted the scenery of the White Mountains in ways designed to appeal to and attract tourists and to serve as souvenirs of their mountain visits. Hotel owners encouraged painters to work and to take up residence in the White Mountain hotels. Paintings enriched the tourists’ sensibilities and enhanced an appreciation of the landscape.
Artist and hotel proprietor alike were selling the landscape, though in different ways, to consumers of mountain scenery. Many hotels eventually had an artist-in-residence, some with elaborately stocked studios during the season, ready to sell visitors their choice from an array of landscape, genre, and floral paintings.
The exhibit artworks are organized geographically, following routes Nineteenth Century travelers took while touring the White Mountains. Visitors will be able to explore the key sites that attracted tourists and inspired artists, beginning and ending in North Conway, home of the earliest White Mountain artists’ community.
“‘Consuming Views’ offers visitors a chance to see the popular and well-known White Mountain locations as well as some lesser known but important views †as they appeared in the 1800s,” Belson added. “The geographic layout of the paintings and the exceptional lighting help add to the exhibit’s impact and make this a stunning, must-see show for art lovers and history buffs alike.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, the society has published a major virtual exhibition online at www.nhhistory.org, and a full-color clothbound book available for purchase through the museum store and the University Press of New England. Thirty-three authors from many different disciplines contributed to the book.
The Museum of New Hampshire History is at 6 Eagle Square. For information, www.nhhistory.org or 603-228-6688.
Editor’s Note: See related book review online.
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