I have been making art inspired by the Adirondacks since the early 1980s, shortly after moving to just outside the park in Saratoga Springs. Initially my subject matter arose out of family camping and hiking trips, an invitation from a friend, or just wandering by car or canoe as I looked for a vista or close-up scene with an interesting set of juxtapositions and a compelling light.
More recently I have taken another approach on some painting trips as I look for the locations used by nineteenth century artists who depicted the Adirondacks. When I look at the actual motifs that inspired another generation of artists I have a better understanding of the choices they made to enhance or alter details. And when I paint at their locations I understand how my choices differ from theirs. The explorations are a stimulus to my own creativity in new settings.
For my latest sleuthing adventure I need input from readers who might have ideas about a mystery mountain painted by the 19th century painter, William Richardson Tyler (1825-1896), who painted the White Mountains of New Hampshire as well as the Adirondacks. Tyler moved to Troy when he was eighteen to paint scenes on the panels of coaches for carriages, horse cars and railroad parlor cars. He opened his own studio in 1858, specializing in ocean views and landscapes. In the 1860s and 1870s he painted in the Adirondacks. His established painting locations include Keene, Raquette Lake, Elizabethtown, Lake George and Paradox Lake.
The painting above, owned by Saratoga Fine Art, shows a settled area by a small river, underneath a scooped-out, isolated mountain that has nearby ridges on the left and distant mountains over both shoulders. Although many nineteenth century artists were known to invent foreground details to set a pleasant stage for the composition, the river and developed land probably have some basis in fact. While this painting could also have been inspired by New Hampshire, the appearance of the mountains evokes the Adirondacks. Many seasoned hikers, as well as myself, have noticed that the distant mountain in the painting evokes Marcy with Little Marcy on the left, but we can’t figure out it how it could be seen from the west with an isolated mountain and a settled area in the foreground.
To make the search easier, I vertically compressed the proportions of the painting in Photoshop, since in my research I have found that nineteenth century artists often exaggerated the heights of the mountains at least 30 percent. The image at right is a distortion of Tyler’s painting that decreases the heights by that percentage and adds red lines to indicate major ridge lines.
Moving past a consideration of the High Peaks area, my next guess was that Tyler painted the scene near the hamlet of Keene Valley where the Ausable River flows along a series of mountains with rounded peaks.
When I examined a painting in my studio from many years ago, I had the idea that we had both painted Tripod Mountain from slightly different angles, just north of Keene Valley. The main characteristics of the mountain in relation to the Ausable appear to match, yet the distant mountain range is missing from my view. Tyler could have been painting from a low ridge on Blueberry Mountain to the west of the river and at first I surmised that maybe from that height more mountains would be visible.
I then shifted my sleuthing to using my computer and Google Earth, which allows me to move around the landscape like a drone with a camera, looking in any direction and from any height. I discovered that I couldn’t get mountains to appear behind Tripod Mountain by moving to a higher vantage point and I started looking around the nearby area for other mountains. By moving my viewpoint just slightly north from the perspective toward Tripod, I discovered an angle toward Baxter Mountain that Tyler may have used.
With distant mountains visible, the vista is a better match and the mountain has a steeper right hand slope than Tripod, more closely resembling the painting. The angle is from a lower slope of Blueberry Mountain, looking east toward Baxter with Hurricane Mountain in the far distance on the left. In order to confirm the identification, I would need to hike to the spot, since the Google Earth images don’t reveal the subtleties of the landscape. With the reforestation of that hillside since the late 1800s, the foreground details will have changed the most and the thick trees may make the vista hard to see. But the exploration may at least confirm or weaken my theory.
Before I finalize my determination, I invite the comments on either alternative perspectives or confirmations of my guesswork. If you have ideas about the location, let me know in the comments below. I hope to hike to the location in the coming year, as well as to the top of Blueberry Mountain to find my own inspirations.
Illustrations, from above: William Richardson Tyler’s untitled painting (photo courtesy Saratoga Art Gallery; Tyler’s painting with ridgelines noted and the height reduced by 30 percent to remove artistic exaggeration that was common in the late 19th century; Anne Diggory, Autumn Sunrise (Tripod Mountain, Keene Valley); and a Google Earth image of the view from the slope of Blueberry Mountain toward Baxter Mountain, Keene Valley, NY (yellow pin is at 44°13’25.71″N , 73°47’24.51″W).