Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

Introduction by Kevin J. Avery, Senior Research Scholar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thomas Cole's first paintings of the White Mountains date to an 1827 visit which he made at the recommendation of his patron, Daniel Wadsworth.  Cole and fellow artist Henry Cheever Pratt made the trek together, using an itinerary suggested by Wadsworth.  They hiked through Crawford Notch, approaching from the south, soon after the Saco River had flooded and washed away some of the bridges they might have used.  The paintings Cole completed on that trip helped develop his reputation as a painter at the same time they brought considerable attention to the White Mountains as a destination.

Cole returned several times to paint in the White Mountains, and this painting resulted from sketches he made on his last trip in 1839, with Asher Durand. This view of what is now called Crawford Notch, looks south through the narrow pass, barely twenty-two feet wide at that time.  The barren bluff on the left above the notch is known as Elephant Head, and what appears to be a small pond in the left foreground is actually Saco Lake, the headwaters of the Saco River which flows southeast to the Atlantic Ocean near Portland. Mt. Webster rises in back of Elephant Head.

Already the landscape shows signs of the changes brought by the presence of a passable wagon path.  Tree stumps in the foreground reveal the hand of man, the horse and rider and the view of Thomas Jefferson Crawford's House all suggest the increasing traffic through the area.

A visitor may stand on the spot in front of the present-day Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center from which Cole painted this view.  The State of New Hampshire purchased approximately 6,000 acres in 1913, in an attempt to halt the clear-cutting of timber which was denuding the hillsides, creating Crawford Notch State Park, which includes the scene portrayed here.

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Photography / Painting Credits

Thomas Cole. A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch). Oil on canvas, 1839, 40 3/16 x 61 5/16 in. National Gallery of Art. Andrew W. Mellon Fund, 1967.8.1., 1967.8.1.

Kay Morgan. Crawford Notch across Saco Lake. , 2012. Courtesy of Katherine Morgan.