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Lake George and the Hudson River School Painters

Where design and craftsmanship artfully converge.

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The Hudson River School & the Role
of Historic Lake George

As the site of several military campaigns during both the French and Indian Wars (1775-1763) and the American Revolution (1775-1781), Lake George captivated the hearts and minds of nineteenth century Americans who were increasingly nostalgic about their history.

MAY 17  2023, 9:55 PM
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Hudson River School painting: Lake George with its placid waters rimmed by rolling mountains and dotted with172 islands was the perfect inspiration for paintings that evoked the sublime wilderness, the beautiful, and the picturesque, as well as the topographical prospect, the panoramic view, and the agrarian ideal. 

Its history spoke of a time when the country was unified against a common enemy, rather than divided against itself. Mementos of its beauty were thus in high demand, enticing an entire cross section of the first-and second-generation Hudson River School painters to repeatedly visit its shores. In turn, the popularity of Lake George grew through the exhibition and publication of paintings and engravings of this fashionable resort. Artists and tourists from across the nation flocked to Lake George to view this dramatic landscape steeped in historic associations and nostalgia, and shrouded in natural beauty. During the nineteenth century, the lake was an integral part of the North American “grand tour” along with the Catskill Mountains, Niagara Falls, and the White Mountains. Far from the battlegrounds of the Civil War, this thirty-two mile long lake surrounded by forests and dotted with one hundred and seventy two islands, offered well-to-do vacationers a respite from the increasingly urbanized  and industrialized cities of America.

Lake George as compared to Loch Katrine
in Scotland

It is said that in the future poetry of America, Lake George will hold the place of Loch Katrine in Scotland. The best idea that can be given of it, indeed, to a person who has seen Loch Katrine, is to say, that it is the Trosachs on a little larger scale. There is the same remarkably clear water in both—the same jutting and bold shores, small green islands, and bright vegetation; and the same profusion of nooks and bays. At Loch Katrine the waters seemed to have overflowed the dells of an undulating country, and left nothing visible but the small green hill-tops loaded with vegetation. The impression was owing, no doubt, to the reach of the shrubs and grass to the very edge of the water; and the same thing produces the same effect at Lake George. When the bosom of the lake is tranquil, the small islands, with their reflections below, look like globes of heaped-up leaves suspended in the air.

The Waters of Lake George

The extraordinary purity of the waters of Lake George procured for it the name of Lake Sacrament; and every stranger is struck with their singular transparency. It is singular, that the waters on every side of it—those of Lake Champlain, for example, of the Hudson, and of the whole region between the Green Mountains and the Mississippi—are more or less impregnated with lime, while Lake George alone is pellucid and pure. It receives its waters, probably, from subjacent springs. The surface of this lake is said to be one hundred feet higher than Lake Champlain. Another, and probably a more correct estimate, makes the difference three hundred. There are three steps to the falls, which form the outlet into the latter lake; and the lower one, when the snow is melting in spring, is a cataract of uncommon beauty. Lake George is frozen over from three to four months; and it is remarked of it, that the ice does not sink, as in Lake Champlain, but gradually dissolves.

Before it became a part of the fashionable tour, this lake was a solitude, appropriated more particularly by the deer and the eagle. Both have nearly disappeared. The echo of the steam-boat, that has now taken the place of the noiseless canoe,—and the peppering of fancy sportsmen, that have followed the far-between but more effectual shots of the borderer’s rifle,—have drawn from its shores these and other circumstances of romance. The only poetry of scene which can take the place of that of nature, is historical and legendary; and ages must lapse, and generations pass away, and many changes come over the land, before that time. We are in the interregnum, now, least favourable for poetry.

The Scenery of Lake George

The whole scenery of this lake is greatly enhanced in beauty and splendour, by the progressive change which the traveller sailing on its bosom perpetually finds in his position, and by the unceasing variegations of light and shade which attend his progress. The gradual and the sudden openings of scoops and basins, of islands and points, of promontories and summits—the continual change of their forms, and their equally gradual and sudden disappearance—impart to every object a brilliancy, life, and motion, scarcely inferior to that which is seen in the images formed by the camera-obscura, and in strength and distinctness greatly superior. Light and shade are here not only far more diversified, but are much more obvious, intense, and flowing, than in smooth, open countries. Every thing, whether on the land or water, was here affected by the changes of the day; and the eye, without forecast, found itself, however disposed on ordinary occasions to inattention, instinctively engaged, and fastened with emotions approximating to rapture. The shadows of the mountains, particularly on the west, floating slowly over the bosom of the lake, and then softly ascending that of the mountains on the east, presented to us, in a wide expanse, the uncommon and most pleasing image of one vast range of mountains slowly moving up the ascent of another.

<img src="Hudson River School Painting.jpg" alt="Lake George, NY">-37 W x 27 H.jpg
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