INSIGHT

Meet the Artists Who Put the White Mountains on the Map

Blog Author - Janet Costa
Janet Costa

If you live in Northern New Hampshire, you already know that the White Mountains’ beauty is an inspiration to all who see them. What you might not know, however, is the extent to which the White Mountains were a source of creative inspiration to a whole host of visual artists of the nineteenth century.

A landscape painting of a river with mountains in the distance

image credit: Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire by Benjamin Champney 

There was a time when the White Mountains once rose up in all their grandeur to claim the attention of some of the most notable names in American art. In its heyday, more than 400 artists were associated with the White Mountain art movement. The artists’ landscapes brought them fame, but they also played a significant role in promoting the region to wealthy patrons who made their way to the White Mountains each summer to escape the heat of the cities.

  • Benjamin Champney. Born in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, and educated in France, Champney made his way to the White Mountains in the second half of the nineteenth century and was thereafter closely associated with the Conway area for the next 50 years of his life. The group of artists that followed him into the mountains became known as the North Conway Colony, and Champney’s home and studio became one of the social hotspots of the region. Art lovers with cash to spare bought Champney originals. Patrons of less modest means purchased chromolithograph prints.There was a time when the White Mountains once rose up in all their grandeur to claim the attention of some of the most notable names in American art. In its heyday, more than 400 artists were associated with the White Mountain art movement. The artists’ landscapes brought them fame, but they also played a significant role in promoting the region to wealthy patrons who made their way to the White Mountains each summer to escape the heat of the cities.
  • Edward Hill. Born in a house for the poor in Staffordshire, England, in 1843, Edward Hill was brought to the United States by his parents a year later. His career as an artist started with a job painting furniture, but by 1864 he was living in Boston and concentrating on painting the landscapes, portraits, and still lifes that would mark him as one of the most prolific painters of his time. Throughout the 1870s, he lived in either Littleton, New Hampshire, or Lancaster, New Hampshire, and he was the artist in residence at the Profile House in Franconia Notch from 1877–1892. His landscapes of the Presidential Mountains sold well among the wealthy summer tourist crowd, but when Hill relocated to the northwest toward the end of his career, he failed to find steady clients for his work. He died in poverty, buried in an unmarked grave in Hood River, Oregon.
  • Albert Bierstadt. Like Edward Hill, Albert Bierstadt was also a transplant from another country whose parents brought him to the United States when he was just a year old. Born in Prussia and raised in Massachusetts, Bierstadt gained international fame for his epic landscapes of the American countryside. His career started in the east, where he associated with the artists of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and those of the Hudson River school in New York as well. But it was Bierstadt’s epic canvases of the American West that catapulted him into the stratosphere as an artistic rock star of the nineteenth century. Europeans hungered for images of the untamed American wilderness, and Bierstadt delivered with more than 500 paintings completed during his career.
  • Catherine Scollay. Long before the iconic profile of the Old Man of the Mountain was imprinted on New Hampshire license plates, countless artists painted his portrait with oils and water colors. Only Catherine Scollay, however, is credited with being the first artist to publicly exhibit a painting of the now famous profile. In 1837, the Massachusetts born artist unveiled Old Man of the Mountains at the Boston Athenaeum, where her work was exhibited from 1827–1848. Scollay was one of more than a dozen female artists associated with the White Mountains school of art.
  • James Augustus Suydam. Scion of an old merchant family out of New York, James Augustus Suydam was an architect and lawyer who became one of the premier landscape painters of the nineteenth century. A regular among the North Conway Colony crowd, Suydam painted landscapes that typified a style of American art that later became known as “luminism.” A precursor to impressionist art, luminism explored the quality of light in a landscape. Although these days Suydam is more closely associated with the Hudson River school of art than that of the White Mountains, it’s worth noting where he breathed his last—at his home in North Conway.