Crawford Notch, a deep valley in New Hampshire's White Mountains, gained notoriety in 1826 when nine lives were lost in a catastrophic avalanche nearby. Cole's painting depicts the site of an earlier landslide whose destruction prompted the victims – Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Willey and their five children, along with two farmhands – to immediately leave their home in Crawford Notch and construct what they thought would be a safe haven close by. Instead, they ran into the very path of disaster - the next night's avalanche struck their temporary refuge. A rescue party arriving the next day searched feverishly for the family. The bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two children, and the farmhands were eventually located, but no trace of the other three children was ever found.
Crawford Notch is thought to allude to this dramatic and tragic episode as emblematic of man's frailty in the face of the vast and unpredictable forces of nature—a theme Cole often explored in his landscapes. Amid this seemingly idyllic autumnal setting, the painting's diminutive human figures appear oblivious to the possibility of tragedy. A man on a black horse rides along a path zig-zagging through the picture space; two figures and a dog stand outside the well-known Notch House Inn and in the distance a stagecoach is about to pass through the notch. Yet evidence of nature's destructive potential is everywhere apparent: the twisted trees of the foreground, the skeletal, gesturing dead trees of the middle distance, the V-shape form of the notch (seemingly riven by some supernatural process), and the dark, sweeping storm clouds at the upper left.
For Cole, ever fascinated by the multiplicity of meanings embedded in landscape, Crawford Notch was a subject rich with possibilities: a family's harrowing misfortune, the power of natural forces, the passing of time. In Crawford Notch the artist successfully integrated these various threads of content into a richly textured whole. At once vibrant, vital, and beautiful, the painting is also provocatively expressive of instability, change, and uncertainty.
lower left: T. Cole. / 1839
Marks and Labels
Commissioned 1839 by Rufus L. Lord [1782-1869], New York. Jonathan Sturges [1802-1874], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; his son, Henry C. Sturges [d. 1924], Fairfield, Connecticut; his wife, Mrs. Henry C. Sturges, Fairfield, Connecticut; LeRoy Ireland, Philadelphia, probably early 1930s, but certainly by 1944; purchased June 1944 by (Vose Galleries, Boston); sold 5 April 1945 to Sanitary Scale Company, Belvidere, Illinois; acquired 1966 by (Kennedy Galleries, New York); purchased 25 May 1967 by NGA.
- Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1840, no. 49, as A View of the Mountain Pass called the Notch of the White Mountains.
- Catalogue of Pictures by Thomas Cole N.A., National Academy of Design, Athenaeum Building, New York, 1843-1844, no. 9, as A View of the Notch in the White Mountains, New-Hampshire.
- Exhibition of Paintings of the Late Thomas Cole, American Art-Union, New York, 1848, 14, no. 40, as A View in the Notch of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
- Inness and the Hudson River School, Robert C. Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1944, no. 40, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- The Hudson River School, The Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1945, 60 and 118, no. 64, as The Pass Which is Called "The Notch of The White Mountains (Crawford Notch, New Hampshire).
- Thomas Cole, One Hundred Years Later, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1948-1949, 13, 27, 37, no. 31, as The Pass which is called "The Notch of the White Mountains".
- Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture Collected by Yale Alumni: An Exhibition, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, 1960, no. 32, repro., as The Pass Called "The Notch of the White Mountains".
- Thomas Cole, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York; Munson-William-Proctor Institute, Utica; Albany Institute of History and Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1969, 34, no. 39.
- Our Land, Our Sky, Our Water: An Exhibition of American and Canadian Art, International Exposition, Spokane, Washington, 1974, 54, no. 1.
- En Ny Värld: Amerikanst landskapsmaleri 1830-1900 och ett urval samtida Skandinaviskt landskapsmaleri, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; Gothenburg Art Museum, Sweden, 1986-1987, 68, no. 26, as Pass in The White Mountains (Notch in the White Mountains).
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1990.
- Thomas Cole: Landscape into History, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; The Brooklyn Museum, 1994-1995, fig. 67.
- New Worlds from Old: 19th Century Australian & American Landscapes, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998-1999, no. 53, repro.
- American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880, Tate Britain, London; Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, no. 5, repro.
- "The Fine Arts. National Academy of Design." The Knickerbocker 16 (July 1840): 81, as View in the White Mountains.
- Lanman, Charles. "Cole's Imaginative Paintings." The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 12 (June 1843): 509, as Notch of the White Mountains.
- "A Few Words about Mr. Cole's Paintings." New World 8 (17 February 1844): 217.
- "Editor's Table." The Knickerbocker 23 (February 1844): 196, as `The Notch in the White Mountains' of New Hampshire.
- Lanman, Charles. Letters from a Landscape Painter. Boston, 1845: 66, as Notch of the White Mountains.
- Noble, Louis Legrand. The Course of Empire, Voyage of Life, and other Pictures of Thomas Cole, N.A.. New York, 1853: 96-97, 274.
- Thomas Cole, 1801-1848, One Hundred Years Later. Exh. cat. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Hartford, 1949: 13, 27, 37, no. 31, as The Pass which is called "The Notch of the White Mountains".
- La Budde, Kenneth James. "The Mind of Thomas Cole." Ph. D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1954: 38, 40-41, 43, repro. 218, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- Hawes, Louis. "A Sketchbook by Thomas Cole." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 15 (1956): 7-8, 10, 20, 21, 22, as The Notch in the White Mountains.
- An Exhibition of Paintings by Thomas Cole, N.A., from the Artist's Studio, Catskill, New York. Exh. cat. Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1964: 22, as The Notch in the White Mountains.
- Noble, Louis Legrand. The Life and Works of Thomas Cole(1853). Edited by Elliot S. Vesell. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1964: 67, 204.
- Callow, James T. Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1967: 127, 138, 155.
- Bermingham, Peter. Jasper F. Cropsey: A Retrospective View of America's Painter of Autumn. Exh. cat. University of Maryland, College Park, 1968: 19, as Autumn-Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
- Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. "Thomas Cole at Crawford Notch." National Gallery of Art Report and Studies in the History of Art 2. (1968-69):132-145, repro. 132, 140, 141.
- Thomas Cole. Exh. cat. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1969: 34, no. 39.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 42, repro.
- Riordan, John. "Thomas Cole: A Case Study of the Painter-Poet Theory of Art in American Painting from 1825-1850." 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, Syracuse University, 1970: 2:384, 385, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- Moore, James C. "Thomas Cole's The Cross and the World: Recent Findings." The American Art Journal 5 (November 1973): 56.
- Moore, James C. "The Storm and the Harvest: The Image of Nature in Mid-Nineteenth Century American Landscape Painting." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1974: 123, 264, color fig. 81, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- Janson, Anthony F. "Worthington Whittredge: Two Early Landscapes." Bulletin of the Detroit Institue of Arts 55 (1977): 203, repro. 204, as Crawford's Notch.
- Campbell, Catherine Crawford. "The Gate of the Notch." Historical New Hampshire 33 (Summer 1978): 94, 97, 98, repro. 95, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- Powell, Earl A., III. "Thomas Cole and the American Landscape Tradition: Associationism." Arts Magazine 52 (April 1978): 116, 177 repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 132, repro.
- Campbell, Catherine H., Donald D. Keyes, Robert L. McGrath, and R. Stuart Wallace. The White Mountains: Place and Perceptions. Exh. cat. University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire. Durham, 1980: 42, 43, 44, 74, repro. 45.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 10, 14, 20, no. 24, color repro.
- Baigell, Matthew. Thomas Cole. New York, 1981: 60, color repro. 60-61.
- Williams 1981, 108 detail, 111, 112 repro., as The Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch).
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 547, no. 825, color repro., as The Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch).
- Gerdts, William H. "American Landscape Painting: Critical Judgements, 1730-1845." The American Art Journal 17 (Winter 1985): 56, 59, repro. 32.
- Keyes, Donald D. "John W. Casilear: A Series of Drawings of the New Hampshire White Mountains." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 44 (1985): 21, as The Notch of the White Mountains.
- Yarnall, James Leo, and William H. Gerdts. The National Museum of American Art's Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues from the beginning through the 1876 Centennial Year. 6 vols. Boston, 1986: 1:775.
- American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. Intro. John K. Howat. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987: 149.
- Myers, Kenneth. The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895. Exh. cat. Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York, 1987: 54, as Notch of the White Mountains.
- Parry, Elwood C., III. The Art of Thomas Cole: Ambition and Imagination. Newark, Delaware, 1988: 219, 133, 144, repro. 220, as A View of the Mountain Pass called the Notch of the White Mountains.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 100, no. 27, color repro.
- Sears, John F. Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1989: 77, repro.
- Cotter, Colensa, L. C. "The American Landscape: Changing Views by Three American Painters." M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1990: 36, 38, repro. 37.
- Powell, Earl A., III. Thomas Cole. New York, 1990: color repro. jacket, 95.
- Ruskin, Judith A. "Thomas Cole and the White Mountains: The Picturesque, the Sublime and the Magnificent." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 66 (1990): 24.
- Wilmerding, John. "Thomas Cole in Maine." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 49 (1990): 3, 6, 14, as The Notch of the White Mountains and Crawford Notch.
- Gretchko, John M.J. "The White Mountains, Thomas Cole, and `Tartarus': The Sublime, the Subliminal, and the Sublimated." In Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts. Kent, Ohio, and London, 1991: 132, repro. 133 and 135.
- Troyen, Carol. "Retreat to Arcadia: American Landscape and the American Art Union." American Art Journal 23 (1991): 22, as Notch in the White Mountains.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 145, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 230, repro.
- Truettner, William H., and Alan Wallach. Thomas Cole : Lanscape into History. Exh. cat. National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Wadsworth Athaneum, Hartford; The Brooklyn Museum. Washington, 1994: 58, 172, no. 67, color repro. 58.
- Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. The Spirit and the Vision: The Influence of Christian Romanticism on the Development of 19th-Century American Art. Atlanta, 1995: 124-127, fig. 20.
- Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 87-95, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 312, no. 251, color repro.
The support is a fairly rough woven fabric that has been lined. The ground appears to be white and infrared reflectography reveals considerable underdrawing. The paint was applied using a great variety of techniques, ranging from smoothly textured passages, such as in the sky, to loose, energetic, and heavily impasted brushwork in the foreground. Under the mountains and in the stormy half of the sky, a reddish brown imprimatura layer appears to have been used. Generally the painting is in very good condition, with only scattered small losses, some slight abrasion in the sky, and some minor flattening of the highest areas of impasto. The varnish has become slightly discolored.