The arrival of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, NH in 1885 marked the beginning of the Cornish Colony, one of the earliest art colonies in the United States. Like their counterparts in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Dublin, New Hampshire, the Cornish art colonists were attracted by the area's natural beauty, climate and relative seclusion, as well as by the mutual support and intellectual stimulation offered by a variety of fellow painters, writers, and other artists. Saint-Gaudens chose Cornish as a retreat from the distractions of New York City, appreciating the quiet and beautiful environment. With views across the Connecticut River Valley to Mount Ascutney in Vermont, the idyllic rolling hill scenery of Cornish was quite appealing. (Note: To learn more about Augustus Saint-Gaudens click here, or to learn about the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site click here.)
In the early years of the 20th century, the Cornish colony was one of the more popular places for creative, fine art activity in the eastern United States. Between 1895 and 1925, nearly 100 painters, sculptors, architects, writers, designers and well-known politicians chose Cornish as the area where they wanted to live, either full-time or during the summer months. In addition, living in a colony such as Cornish could involve socializing amongst colonists, attending fetes and parties featuring music and drama.
Some of the earliest to come to Cornish were sculptors who became nationally prominent, including Herbert Adams, Daniel Chester French, James EarleFraser, Frederick MacMonnies, Paul Manship and William Zorach. Other artists associated with the colony such as the painter George de ForestBrush, and chronicler of the American West Frederic Remington, Philadelphia painter Stephen Parrish and his illustrator son Maxfield (who later built a house in nearby Plainfield where he lived year round for over thirty years until his death in 1966.) The impressionist painter Willard Metcalf also spent time at Cornish, though he preferred the winter season. Artists of other disciplines poets, novelists, playwrights, editors, composers, and musicians all added to the cultural vitality of the Cornish colony.
The Cornish colony lasted little more than a quarter-century. By 1912, the original residents of the Cornish colony had largely dispersed.
Artists & Cornish Colony
Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) is best known for his refined and vaguely mysterious images of women. Born in Boston, he worked in lithography before traveling to France for training. Like other talented, but relatively unknown young artists, Dewing began his life as an independent professional by taking orders for portraits in chalk. Requiring little outlay of time and materials, and therefore less expensive to commission, these chalk portraits could bring a young artist money and recognition.
The Currier’s Portrait of Eliza Williams Stone Paine Dewing (1869) is an example of Dewing’s chalk portraiture and one of the artist’s earliest known works. Executed at the age of 17, this portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law demonstrates Dewing’s abilities to accurately depict this subject. With her head turned three-quarters to the right, she displays a thoughtful expression. A strong concern with naturalism is evident in the artist’s careful attention to the different textures of hair, skin and clothing. Like an academic study, Dewing’s portrait reveals an earnest desire to record the truth of physical appearances. As he grew in artistic maturity, Dewing’s work would change from depicting clear contours to a more atmospheric approach emphasizing mood and suggestion. Thus, the Currier portrait is a rare and important document in the development of an artist who is today recognized as one of the leading spirits of Gilded Age painting.
Beginning in the late 1870s, Dewing held a series of teaching positions at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Students’ League of New York and the National Academy of Design. With the Impressionists Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson and others he became a founding member of the Ten American Painters in 1898. Dewing was a prominent member of New Hampshire’s Cornish colony. From the late 1880s through 1905, Dewing spent his summers in Cornish where he was a neighbor of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Maxfield Parrish.