A Trip to the Mountains

Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908
Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled Landscape of Mount Ascutney

Attributed to Henry Fitch Taylor (1853-1925)

Created: Vermont, c. 1908

Materials: Oil, canvas, wooden board
Dimensions: 8 1/8” x 10 3/8”

On display at the Nichols House Museum

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.125 here: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

For the artists and families who summered in Cornish, New Hampshire, at the turn of the twentieth century, the surrounding mountains defined the landscape, particularly the view of Mount Ascutney. The landscape inspired myriad designers, artists, and writers, and provided a perpetually dramatic backdrop for everyday activities.[i]  Artist Henry Fitch Taylor and his wife, Clara Davidge Taylor, owned a home in Cornish and participated in the life of the colony, whose members included sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish, and architect Charles Platt. The Taylors knew many Cornish residents, including the Nichols family, who owned a home called Mastlands (due to the tall, straight white pine trees on the property which were harvested to serve as masts of sailing ships) where they summered from 1880s-1930s.[ii]

Mastlands
Mastlands, summer home of the Nichols family

The view of Mount Ascutney influenced how homes and gardens were designed in Cornish so that the dwellings could take advantage of the best views possible.  A visit to Cornish in 1906 by the horticulturalist and author Frances Duncan led her to observe:

“[Most] Cornish folk have wisely taken to the hills, and overlook the valley and Ascutney, each with a view of his own; for there are views and to spare at Cornish… [but] Rare is it in Cornish that the garden runs an opposition show, or challenges comparison with the loveliness of the mountains.”[iii]

The veranda at Mastlands

Although the gardens in Cornish were the pride and joy of the homeowners of the colony, they were designed to accent the spectacular natural beauty of the mountains surrounding the area. Rose Standish Nichols wrote in 1911 of her first garden she designed for her parents’ summer home:

“But when seen from the safe distance of the piazza, where we live most of the summer, [the garden’s] deficiencies of detail are lost in space and the masses of bright-colored flowers against the gray background of stone wall, with the exquisite contours of purple Mount Ascutney rising high above the dark pine forests in the distance, fill one with a sense of abiding peace and beauty.”[iv]

A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols
A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols

Rose’s mother could not have agreed more- she wrote home to her husband in 1886, “The lovely views of Ascutney and the hills are a constant delight.”[v]

Henry Fitch Taylor was one of America’s first Impressionist painters and later was one of the first to embrace the early modernist movement.[vi] His works spanned from oil painting to cement carvings to carved wooden panel sculptures. Always interested in pushing boundaries in the art world, he was also instrumental in organizing the ground-breaking 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, often referred to as the Armory Show, in New York City.[vii] Taylor was a member of two New England art colonies, the Cos Cob Art Colony of Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Cornish Art Colony, where he spent the later years of his life.

This small oil painting may have been painted en plein air, outdoors, with the view of Mount Ascutney directly before him. The paint is quite thick in some places and thin in others, but the bright colors (since darkened with age) are suggestive of Taylor’s interest in color and color theory. Although the Nichols House Museum does not know how Rose Nichols’ came to own this painting, it evidently meant a lot to her. She had it hanging in her bedroom at the time of her death in 1960.

Taylor’s small, colorful oil painting of Mount Ascutney is a little reminder of those vibrant, creative Cornish summers the Nichols enjoyed, on display in the Boston home.

1964 RSN bedroom
Rose Nichols’ bedroom at 55 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1964

Interested in learning more about the artists of Cornish and Rose Nichols’ time there? The Nichols House Museum is hosting a lecture Tuesday, October 28 at 6:00 p.m. entitled “Life at Mastlands: Rose Nichols and the Cornish Art Colony” by Margaret Dimock, the museum’s inaugural Julie Linsdell and Georgia Linsdell Enders Research Intern. Please call the museum at 617-227-6993 to reserve a seat for this free lecture.

Mount Ascutney, located in Windsor and Weathersfield, Vermont, is located across the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire. It rises 3,144 feet, and is geographically termed a “monadnock” or “inselberg”- a mountain or rocky mass that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in an essentially level area[viii].  Although not the only mountain able to be seen from Cornish, Mount Ascutney is distinctive for its granite outcroppings along its peak. Mount Ascutney and surrounding areas became a Vermont state park in 1935.[ix]

By Ashley Jahrling Bannon, Assistant to the Director of the Nichols House Museum

 

[i]  A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin, exhibition catalog. University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham: Mark-Burton Inc., 1985.

[ii] Hutchinson, B. June. At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family. Board of Governors, Nichols House Museum. South Korea: 2011. Pg. 79-114

[iii] Duncan, Frances. “The Gardens of Cornish.” The Century Magazine. Vol. LXXII, no. 1. May, 1906.

[iv] Nichols, Rose Standish. “How Not to Make a Flower Garden.” House Beautiful, September, 1911. Pg. 104.

[v] Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill, 79. Elizabeth to Arthur, July 9, 1886.

[vi] Oaklander, Christine I. “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist: Henry Fitch Taylor, An Exhibition at Bush-Holley Historic Site September 30 to December 31 2005.” The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich.

[vii] Oaklander, “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist.”

[viii] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/monadnock

[ix] http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/ascutney.htm