Fitz Hugh Lane, Entrance of Somes Sound, Mount Desert, Maine, 1855, pencil on paper, John Wilmerding Collection
The drama of Maine's rocky coast has long attracted American artists. One of the grandest sites in an indisputably scenic area is Mount Desert, an island approximately 108 miles square, located about two-thirds the way up the Maine coast. Named "Isle de Mont-Deserts" by the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, for its thirteen barren peaks, the island was settled by descendants of English fishermen, farmers, boat builders, and lumbermen.
Beginning in the 1830s and 1840s with Thomas Doughty, Alvan Fisher, and, most importantly, the renowned Thomas Cole, who went there to sketch in 1844, artists succumbed to Mount Desert's splendid views. Despite its remoteness, or perhaps because of it, well-known figures such as Frederic Church and Fitz Hugh Lane visited several times in the 1850s to record the island's wild and rugged beauty. The 1851 exhibition of Church's images at the National Academy of Design in New York City popularized the site for both professional and amateur artists.
With a boom in tourism at the end of the Civil War, Mount Desert became a common vacation destination, and its novelty faded somewhat among artists. Their depictions were less concerned with geologic correctness and detailed naturalism, emphasizing instead the island's evanescent qualities of light and atmosphere. Mount Desert eventually attracted affluent recreation-seekers, several of whom purchased and then presented to the government some of the island's most beautiful land, which later became the core of Acadia National Park.
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