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Private Views: Collecting the Adirondacks

The Adirondack Mountains are a wild, breathtakingly beautiful place unlike any other, inspiring hundreds of artists to capture this unique landscape on canvas since the 19th century. But you don’t have to be a trained painter to appreciate this region with an artist’s eye – private art collectors seek out paintings that reflect and affirm their own emotional, and often passionate, attachment to the Adirondacks. Through their commitment and care these artistic renderings of our changing natural landscape are handed down through the decades and hang now on our museum walls. Featuring 19th century Adirondack landscape paintings from private collections, Private Views offers a rare chance for the public to see works by important American artists including Samuel Colman, John Lee Fitch, A.F. Tait, John Frederick Kensett, Thomas Addison Richard, George Bacon Wood, Roswell Morse Shurtleff, George Herbert McCord, William Trost Richards, and Levi Wells Prentice, among others.

Collecting art is a highly personal, idiosyncratic activity; every art collection reflects the interests and personality of the collector, and each acquisition resonates with the collector aesthetically and intellectually in a unique way. As artist Andre Malraux once said “To love a painting is to feel that this presence is… not an object but a voice.” That personal perspective, the voice that each collector hears, shapes the nature of the work they collect.

Artists were among the first Europeans to venture deep into the East’s last frontier, enduring exposure to the elements, arduous journeys through unbroken wilderness on foot, the torment of blackflies. Thousands, particularly painters, have lived and worked in these mountains, reflecting and reinforcing ideas about Americans’ relationship to nature and the Adirondack landscape in their work. In the 19th century, depictions of the Adirondack Mountains, hung in galleries and reproduced in popular periodicals, influenced the way people understood and interacted with nature, and fostered the development of a national landscape—a distinctly American aesthetic in art. Today, the Adirondacks continue to inspire painters and photographers as well as the collectors who ensure that their artwork survives the centuries.

Featuring paintings from the museum’s own collection and loans from others, the exhibit examines the role of private collectors in fostering, preserving, and ultimately making public America’s artistic heritage. The exhibit also explores the role of patrons in the life of 19th century artists; the places Adirondack landscapes were displayed, and to whom; and how these images shaped an urban discourse about the value of nature and wilderness. Testimony from collectors gives visitors a glimpse into why their Adirondack paintings are important to them.  We also want to hear from you – what are your emotional and aesthetic responses to these iconic Adirondack artworks?

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