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The Oxbow, Massachusetts

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

The breathtaking vista of the Connecticut River Valley from Mount Holyoke in Hadley, Massachusetts has been a tourist draw since 1821, when the first guest cabin was built on its top.  Picturesque travelers ascended to the summit of the 935-foot ridge by carriage or foot especially to view the peculiar loop—referred to, in that beast-of-burden era, as the "Oxbow"—that then distinguished the river's course, and could be seen only from the mountaintop.  Natural changes in the environment by the 1840s altered the stream's route, bypassing the loop, but today several ponds remain that mark its former contours.  From the summit, the fertile valley could inspire writers like Theodore Dwight, born in Northampton, to see in the quilt-like pattern of prosperous farm plots below him "the common rights in which all [Americans] participate."  His pastoral republican vision is akin to what Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, perceived in 1836 when he painted the most famous image of the prospect.  Cole divided his picture into two parts:  at left, a stormy mountain woodland and, at right, the picturesque valley idealized by Dwight, as if to narrate the passage from the wilderness the earliest colonial settlers found to the nation they fought and worked to make.


 

 Map & Directions

Driving Directions: We recommend Google Map . Site coordinates: 42.300592 Lat., -72.587733 Long.

Location Notes: Mount Holyoke is now part of J. A. Skinner State Park in Hadley, Massachusetts. The summit may be reached by car via Skinner State Park Road. Look for the park signs on the left.


Painting / Photography Credits

Thomas Cole. View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After A Thunderstorm (The Oxbow). Oil on canvas, 1836, 51 ½ x 76 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908, 8.228., 8.228.

Thomas Cole. Sketch for View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After A Thunderstorm (The Oxbow). Oil on composition board, c. 1836. Private Collection.

Thomas Cole. Panorama of the Oxbow on the Connecticut River as Seen from Mount Holyoke. Graphite pencil on off-white wove paper, c.1833. Detroit Institute of Arts. Founders Society Purchase, William H. Murphy Fund, 39.566.67.