Rowing on a Mountain Lake
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund; P.967.88
Thomas Doughty distinguished himself as one of the first American artists to concentrate solely on landscape painting. After depvoting himself exclusively to painting in 1820, he attracted commissions primarily for views of estates and public architecture in the environs of his native Philadelphia. He resided in Boston intermittently beginning in 1829 and turned his attention increasingly to landscape painting, which was then gaining popularity. Boston served as his base for regular sketching trips to the White Mountains, the Catskills, and the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine. Through such artfully composed, sylvan landscapes as Rowing on a Mountain Lake, Doughty played a key and early role in helping to popularize the White Mountains of New Hamshire as a destination for artists, sportsmen, and tourists. This luminous canvas probably depicts Echo Lake in Franconia Notch, with the cliffs of Cannon Mountain in the background. Its visual appeal derives not only from the inherent drama of the site but also from Doughty’s reliance on longstanding landscape practices (especially those established by seventeenth-century French painter Claude Lorraine) and late-eighteenth-century British aesthetic theories that characterized the Sublime and the Picturesque in landscape. Upholding such conventions, Doughty’s carefully balanced composition exhibits a central, mirrorlike body of water that leads our eyes into the distance, strong contrasts between lights and darks, and a mixture of rough and smooth contours. Its vertical format and low vantage point accentuate the height of the rocky precipices, which dwarf the small boating figure. The blasted tree and the threatening clouds over Cannon Mountain add further tension to this otherwise placid composition, emphasizing the awe-inspiring, sometimes destructive, forces of nature.
Last Updated: 4/17/09