Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Lake Placid Views of William Trost Richards

anne at work crop 1240With a clear forecast and a plan to paddle the full circuit of Lake Placid, I decided to enhance the outing by looking for the painting viewpoints of William Trost Richards (1833-1905), who had painted there for a week in 1904.

Richards’ long career included many summers in the Elizabethtown area, and at the age of 71 he went on a Lake Placid painting trip with his daughter, the artist Anna Richards Brewster.

William Trost Richards work can be seen in the extensive 2010  catalogue for the Adirondack Museum’s exhibit, In Search of a National Landscape: William Trost Richards and the Artist’s Adirondacks, 1850-1870. In addition to three images of Lake Placid in the catalogue I found six others from websites of museums, auction houses and reproduction companies.

1 sentinel match 1240By locating his viewpoints I hoped to have a better understanding of the choices he made for his locations, compositions and interpretations.  I expected to find recognizable scenes since plein air artists are less likely to change the basic relationships between subjects – with the light is changing rapidly, altering these basic relationships just takes too much time. (Adjustments are often made back in the studio).

I picked Gray’s Point, in the northwest corner of Lake Placid, as my main destination Using Google Earth I could place my viewpoint at lake level and slowly move along the shore, watching the relationships shift between the main elements of Richards’ paintings: Moose Island, Hawk Island, Whiteface Landing, Sunrise Notch, and the peak and ridges on Whiteface.

Filling a large waterproof envelope with copies of Richards’ paintings, art supplies, maps, and lunch, my husband Terry and I paddled from the public boat launch toward the western shore. I was surprised to discover the first matchup, a painting of the Sentinel Range seen through Shelter Strait, “Lake Placid I.”

3 watercolor Lake Placid richards 1240 px 2 Richards-View-of-Whiteface-460 px 4 WTR Wilmington-Notch-Lake-Placid-New-York 1067pxRichards took some artistic license with the gently undulating ridgeline and made the slightly higher peak much more dominant. Richards had transformed the scale of one peak, but kept true to the spacings of the undulations. In the painting he used sharp contrasts of value to emphasize the distinct spatial layers.

Continuing up the lake, I watched the tip of Moose Island as it appeared to pull back, revealing more of Whiteface. I occasionally back paddled to consider the shifting relationships of other elements – sketching, photographing and checking my copies.  I noticed the shifting position of Mainland Point in relation to Whiteface and the relative location of the unnamed rise of land to the right of Eagle Eyrie. All the while I was turning around 180 degrees, enthralled by the distant panorama of the High Peaks. I have yet to find any Richards paintings of that very wide stretch. He seemed to prefer a view of a dominant peak, closely bracketed by points of land.

5 Whiteface-Mountain-Lake-Placid-676x420 6 wtr whiteface mt from LP 1240 px 7 richards sme oneA bit below Gray’s Point, north of boathouse #103, I began to see Sunrise Notch in the distance, right off the tip of Moose Island. That alignment matches three of the Richards paintings. To get that grouping he probably painted from Minnow Brook Camp, which is on the north side of Minnow Brook. The paintings are dominated by the inverted triangle of Sunrise Notch, with Whiteface obscured by trees in two very similar compositions titled “Lake Placid,” and by heavy clouds in the third, titled “Wilmington Notch, Lake Placid, NY.”

The next set of three paintings appears to be from the area of Gray’s Point from three separate viewpoints. In them, the point of land on the left, probably Undercliff, sits in varying relationships to Whiteface. Mainland Point appears almost as an island below the main peak. The compositions are distinctly different. Moose Island brackets the composition on the right in a somber-colored “Lake Placid” with an extremely calm lake and strong reflections. In the sunny version, “Whiteface Mountain from Lake Placid,” the boulders of the foreground are echoed in the isolated clouds in a circular composition. The emphasis in “Lake Placid, Adirondack Mountains” is on the peak darkened by the gathering clouds. It is much more detailed and may have been a studio work.

8 Lake Placid II 764 pxFor the two remaining works I will have to return, since I didn’t explore the shorelines where they were likely painted. My Google Earth research places the viewpoint for “Lake Placid II” on Moose Island across from Minnow Brook where to the north there is a narrow gap looking toward Eagle Eyrie.

9 buck islandCloser to Richards’ base of operations near Pulpit Rock is the viewpoint for “Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid.” In it Sunrise Notch is obscured by the sloping ridge leading to Whiteface Landing, which matches the juxtapositions as seen from Cape Marie on Buck Island. Bathed in morning light, the painting is the only one with Whiteface centered in the painting and with a foreground on the right.

diggory midday majesty 1240 pxBy the time I had located the Gray’s Point viewpoints it was past lunch and we headed for two lean-tos near the tip of Moose Island on the east lake shore. There I sat on the dock with a view of Whiteface beyond Hawk Island. Using watercolor, I painted the complex patterns of vegetation that revealed the underlying structure of the mountain. The mid-day light lit everything fairly evenly and I pushed the contrast between the colors of the shoreline and mountain top.  I finished “Mid-day Majesty” in the studio a few days later, tweaking the colors and adding the free-form shapes in the water and a very simple sky.

The new piece adds to my series of Lake Placid paintings begun almost 15 years ago as an invited artist at the Lake Placid Lodge. Some of those sunrises and sunsets are currently on display at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, through September 19th, with an informal gallery talk September 18th, at 6 pm.

map numbered in order of article 1240 px

Illustrations, from above (the numbers correspond to map locations. Anne Diggory at Gray’s Point on Lake Placid; (1) Comparison of view of Shelter Strait with William Trost Richards “Lake Placid I”; (2) Richards’ “Lake Placid”; (3) Richards’ “View of Whiteface Mt. from Lake Placid”; (4) Richards’ “Wilmington Notch, Lake Placid, New York”; (5) Richards’ “Lake Placid”; (6) Richards’ “Whiteface Mt. From Lake Placid”; (7) Richards’ “Lake Placid, Adirondack Mountains”; (8) Richards’ “Lake Placid II”; (9) Richards’ “Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid”; Anne Diggory “Mid-day Majesty”; and a 1924 map of Lake Placid showing viewpoints for the nine William Trost Richards paintings.

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Since moving to Saratoga Springs in 1977, Anne Diggory has been inspired by the natural world of the Adirondacks as well as mountain landscapes encountered in her travels. She uses her artistic perspective to identify the Adirondack painting locations of artists working in past centuries and has helped several museums correct their catalogues and rename their paintings. Her research concerning the painting location of John Frederick Kensett’s iconic “Lake George, 1869,” was recently published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal. Additional information and images are available at

5 Responses

  1. John Omohundro says:

    this may not be a sophisticated comment, but WAY COOL! You may be an artist, Anne, but this has the feel of natural history. A map with arrows and captions, whoa. Darwin, mixed with Monet. As a paddler and a painter, I should try a bit of this too. I’m going to Adirondack Museum toot sweet.

    • John – Thanks for the enthusiasm. “Way cool” is a great compliment. The detective work to find the paintings and then the locations is addictive. I started with a huge Lake George project 10 years ago inventorying John Frederick Kensett painting locations. Eventually I hope to expand the Lake Placid map to other 19th century artists.
      If you go to the Adirondack Museum, they currently don’t have the 19th century paintings in a gallery space, but you can find some of them in the other exhibit buildings. Their Richards catalogue has a lot from the Elizabethtown area, which is another area I want to try – but it entails driving around more than paddling. The Saranac Lake area may be a good paddle and search area, but I haven’t identified enough paintings yet. Let me know what you find!

  2. Terrific article! And I enjoyed your current LPCA show and our brief meeting. You are inspirig!

  3. Charlie h says:

    A wonderful comparison of my favorite Richards views with the author’s takes and photo views . Almost a then and now feeling. One of the best almanack pieces.

    • Thanks Charlie, I know you spent a lot of time with his work at the Adirondack Museum. Indeed these of Lake Placid are among his most spontaneous, since they were mainly painted on the spot at the end of a career that was filled with much more meticulous studio work. After a period of painting more like Hudson River School artists, he was often aligned with the pre-Raphaelite movement.

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