When most of us think of paintings that celebrate America's natural landscape, we're likely to think more of upstate New York than New England.
After all, naturalism in American painting is virtually defined by the magnificent landscapes created by the artists of the Hudson River School.
But American artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Benjamin Champney, Jasper Cropsey, Asher Durand and John Frederick Kensett also were inspired by the beautiful vistas of New England, especially those in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
An exhibition of 52 paintings celebrating the natural splendor of the Granite State is on display at the Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College. "White Mountain Painters 1834-1926," organized by the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Mass., will be open through March 30.
One wonders why these White Mountain landscapes should be less revered than their contemporaneous Hudson River counterparts, especially since some of the artists inspired by New England (Bierstadt and Cole, for example) were also members in good standing of the more famous school.
It may be a case of popularity breeding contempt.
When tourism hit New Hampshire in mid-19th century, artists were attracted to the region. Some entered into commercial deals with the local hotels and sold their paintings as souvenirs for affluent tourists. Their popularity may have doomed them to second-class status in snootier appraisals of American art history.
The works are grand, romantic evocations of America's natural beauty and are very much worth a look.
The Mitchell Gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays.
On Feb. 28, Robert McGrath, professor of art history at Dartmouth College, will lecture about the paintings at 7:30 p.m. in the Gallery's Conversation Room. Admission is free, but registration is necessary. Call 626-2556.