Farnsworth Art Museum

Rockland, Maine

(207) 596-6497


Left to right: The Farnsworth has multiple entrances, this one accessing the gift shop at the corner of Main and Elm Streets; the Center for the Wyeth Family in Maine, located behind the Museum on Elm Street. Photo courtesy of John Hazeltine.



Inventing Acadia: Artists and Tourists at Mount Desert

June 13th-October 24th, 1999



On June 13th, the exhibition "Inventing Acadia: Artists and Tourists at Mount Desert" opens at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. This historic exhibition explores the contributions of landscape painters of the Hudson River School in the creation of Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Today, the Park is one of the most popular in the nation, visited by over three million people annually.

Established in 1919 the Park encompasses over 35,000 acres. Its discovery and promotion in paintings, prints, travel books and photographs demonstrates how visual culture helped to establish scenic destinations. The Farnsworth's Curator of 19th Century American Art, Pamela J. Belanger, has assembled some of American art's most impressive and beautiful images by artists such as Thomas Doughty, Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Fitz Hugh Lane, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Jervis McEntee and many others, revealing their work to the public for the first time in this particular context. The exhibition will include over 35 major paintings of the island and many related drawings, sketchbooks, letters, travel books, maps and photographs.

In the mid-1840s, Mount Desert Island was a remote and inhospitable wilderness. Its discovery by these artists and its promotion through their paintings and in prints, travel books and photographs began a transformation of the landscape into scenic representations that became symbols of national identity. The marketing of these paintings in New York and Boston established Mount Desert as a new, unspoiled wilderness and a highly attractive travel destination. A new tourist culture stimulated by beliefs in the transcendent value of the wilderness experience and an appreciation of landscape emerged.

A lavishly illustrated book in full color, with provocative new interpretations of some of America's greatest masterpieces, has been written by Ms. Belanger to accompany the exhibition. An interdisciplinary study, the book demonstrates how visual art allied itself with tourist interests to produce a sense of specific place that endures to this day.

Ms. Belanger shows how Mount Desert's remarkable geology and coastal geography matched the aesthetic expectations of the artists from New York who first explored it. One chapter traces the discovery of the island by Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty. Another chapter shows how the paintings of Frederic Edwin Church directly stimulated tourism, eventually leading to the island becoming one of the nation's greatest scenic destinations.

Professor John Wilmerding, the Christopher Binyon Sarofim '86 Professor of American Art and the Chair of the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton University, is author of the foreward to the study and offers an appreciation of Mount Desert Island from the perspective of both a scholar and a long-time resident.

An essay by J. Gray Sweeney, Professor of Art History at Arizona State University, entitled "An Indomitable Explorative Enterprise: Inventing National Parks," examines the ways that art, cultural politics, and the emergence of a field of visual arts production in New York around the time of the Civil War led to the invention of national parks for primarily aesthetic reasons.

A series of slide lectures will accompany the exhibition. The focus of the lectures is to contextualize the works of art included in the Mount Desert Island exhibition and address the social and cultural forces involved in the construction of Mount Desert as a major tourist resort.

Exhibition sponsors include The David Rockefeller Fund, "Down East Magazine", Bonnie Lunt Management in Memory of Dennis D. Troxell and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust.

Images from top to bottom (click on the thumbnail images to enlarge them): Frederic E. Church, "Sunset," 1856, oil on canvas, 24 x 36", Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art, Utica, New York, Proctor Collection, PC.50; Sanford Robinson Gifford, "The Artist Sketching at Mount Desert, Maine," 1864-1865, oil on canvas, 11 x 19". Collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr.; Sanford Robinson Gifford, "Rocks at Porcupine Island Near Mt. Desert," 1864, oil on canvas, 12 1/2 x 9". The Farnsworth Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1998; Frederic E. Church, "Otter Creek, Mount Desert," c. 1850, oil on canvas, 16 3/4 x 24". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Seth K. Sweetser Fund, Tompkins Collection, Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund, and Gift of Mrs. R. Amory Thorndike.


Read more in Resource Library about the Farnsworth Art Museum.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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