Art can be like a time machine transporting us back into New England winters past. So
this week’s blizzard inspired a deep dive into a century and a half of winter wonderland scenes in the collections of local art museums—from a snowy sleigh ride along Boston Common to a pioneering Vermont photographer of snowflakes.
These artworks are from the collections of—and can often be seen in person at—the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover; Clark Art Institute in Williamstown; Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge; and the Worcester Art Museum.
A horse-drawn sleigh pauses in the foreground of "Snow Scene on the Northeast Corner of the Boston Common” from around 1875 by the celebrated Boston photographer Josiah Johnson Hawes. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Childe Hassam drew on French inspirations for his 1885 to ’86 oil painting "At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight),” which has become one of the iconic artworks in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ collection. The Dorchester native shows a girl feeding birds along the park’s Tremont Street Mall—his studio was across the street—as (then) modern streetcars rumble along behind her. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Wilson Bentley pioneered a technique of connecting a camera to a microscope that allowed him to record the dazzling structures of snowflakes as seen in "Snow Crystal” from around 1920. He spent four decades photographing snowflakes, liking to use a feather to delicately position snowflakes in front of his lens for minute-and-a-half-long exposures. To keep his subjects from melting, he worked outdoors in the snow at his family farm in Jericho, Vermont. He died in that town after catching pneumonia from going out in a blizzard. (Currier Museum of Art) John B. Heywood, a Boston photographer active in the second half of the 1800s, recorded a "Winter Scene in Park Street,” a pair of albumen prints from around 1865. (Addison Gallery of American Art) Winslow Homer, who was born in Boston and brought up in Cambridge, first made his name designing magazine illustrations in the 1860s and ‘70s—like his 1871 wood engraving "Winter-Morning—Shoveling Out” in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art. Boston artist George Hawley Hallowell painted this watercolor "Snow Drapery" somewhere between 1890 and 1910. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) The American artist Maud Hunt Squire spent time in Paris in the first decade of the 20th century—including visits to Gertrude Stein's salons where she met Picasso and Matisse. Her woodcut "Sweeping the Snow" from around 1919 dates to the period around World War I when she and her life partner Ethel Mars settled in Provincetown, and became part of a group of vanguard printmakers there, before returning to Europe in the 1920s. (Worcester Art Museum) Arthur Wesley Dow was an Ipswich artist particularly inspired by the harmony he found in Japanese prints. You can feel some of that in "Field, Fence and Trees in Snow," a cyanotype photo from about 1900 in which medium’s blue tones give the scene a dramatic midnight mood. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) “Winter in New England" is an oil painting from the first half of the 20th century by the Boston native Marion Monks Chase, who was part of a group of local painters who became known as “The Boston Five” who had received traditional art training but in the 1920s adopted modernist techniques. (Worcester Art Museum) After first becoming known as an illustrator, Winslow Homer developed his reputation as a rugged, realist painter of coastal Massachusetts, New York’s Adirondacks and, after he moved from New York to Prout's Neck, Maine, in 1883, nature Down East in paintings like his 1892 canvas "Coast in Winter." (Worcester Art Museum.) Norman Rockwell invites you on a holiday walk in "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (Home for Christmas)," which he painted for McCall’s magazine in 1967. There’s the public library, the old town office, a Victorian hotel, and, at far right, Rockwell's South Street home and studio from 1953 to 1957. His oil painting of the Berkshires community represents for many the quintessential New England small town. (Norman Rockwell Museum) Maxfield Parrish became one of the most popular illustrators of the 20th century with his fantasy scenes and, later, romanticized New England landscapes painted with photographic precision and glowing, jewel-like colors. He was living in Plainfield New Hampshire, where he moved around age 30, when he painted "Hill Top Farm, Winter" in 1949. Depicting Windsor, Vermont, and published with the title “Lights of Welcome” in a 1952 calendar, the Museum of Fine Arts reports that it “was part of a series of landscapes that he painted in the last thirty years of his life for Brown and Bigelow of Saint Paul, Minnesota, one of the nation’s largest distributors of calendars and greeting cards." (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) "Naturally I do not want to tell you what you should or shouldn't paint,” artist Peter Blume’s New York art dealer Charles Daniel wrote him in February 1927. “But if Winter in New Hampshire would fill you with a desire to paint a Snow Landscape, I know we should have a Picture that would be very enticing." Blume’s crisp oil painting “Winter, New Hampshire”—he was working Exeter, New Hampshire, at the time—from that year could be the artist’s answer. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Jasper Francis Cropsey, a prominent New York landscape painter, depicted this "Winter Landscape, North Conway, NH" in 1859. It shows the White Mountains, “looking south toward Moat Mountain and the prominent escarpments known as Cathedral and White Horse Ledges,” according to the Currier Museum of Art. The orderly composition and “suspiciously picturesque vignettes … highlight the fact that Cropsey painted this work from imagination while living in England.” (Currier Museum of Art) Springfield artist Asa Cheffetz depicted "Winter in Southampton (Mass.)" in this wood engraving from around 1949. (Clark Art Institute) “A Winter Stag” pauses at the edge of a snowy moonlit field in this 1866 lithograph by the Boston artist William Morris Hunt. (Clark Art Institute) Winslow Homer painted "Sleigh Ride" around 1890 to 1895. “This small, unsigned canvas remained in Homer’s studio until his death,” the Clark Art Institute reports, “and was perhaps never intended to be exhibited in public.” (Clark Art Institute) John Henry Twachtman painted this delicate, white-on-white, Impressionist scene of a "Country House in Winter, Cos Cob” around 1901. It’s believed to depict the Brush House and store in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Addison Gallery of American Art) Dodge Macknight—a native of Providence who later settled on Cape Cod—painted this watercolor "Snow, White Mountains" sometime between 1880 to 1909. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) “Monhegan,” Rockwell Kent wrote in his autobiography, “its rockbound shores, its towering headlands, the thundering surf with gleaming crests and emerald eddies, its forest and its flowering meadowlands . . . it was enough to start me off to such feverish activity in painting as I had never known.” He settled for a while on the Maine island at the encouraging of the painter Robert Henri in 1905—and this 1909 canvas "Maine Coast, Winter,” probably depicting the headlands, is one of the results. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Greg Cook is co-founder of ARTery. Follow him on Twitter @AestheticResear and be his friend on the Facebook.