A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch)

Thomas Cole1839

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Washington, DC, United States

Crawford Notch, a deep valley in New Hampshire's White Mountains, gained notoriety in 1826 when nine lives were lost in a catastrophic avalanche nearby. Cole's painting depicts the site of an earlier landslide whose destruction prompted the victims—Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Willey and their five children, along with two farmhands—to immediately leave their home in Crawford Notch and construct what they thought would be a safe haven close by. Instead, they ran into the very path of disaster—the next night's avalanche struck their temporary refuge. A rescue party arriving the next day searched feverishly for the family. The bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two children, and the farmhands were eventually located, but no trace of the other three children was ever found.

_Crawford Notch_ is thought to allude to this dramatic and tragic episode as emblematic of man's frailty in the face of the vast and unpredictable forces of nature—a theme Cole often explored in his landscapes. Amid this seemingly idyllic autumnal setting, the painting's diminutive human figures appear oblivious to the possibility of tragedy. A man on a black horse rides along a path zig-zagging through the picture space; two figures and a dog stand outside the well-known Notch House Inn, and in the distance a stagecoach is about to pass through the notch. Yet evidence of nature's destructive potential is everywhere apparent: the twisted trees of the foreground, the skeletal, gesturing dead trees of the middle distance, the V-shape form of the notch (seemingly riven by some supernatural process), and the dark, sweeping storm clouds at the upper left.

For Cole, ever fascinated by the multiplicity of meanings embedded in landscape, Crawford Notch was a subject rich with possibilities: a family's harrowing misfortune, the power of natural forces, the passing of time. In _Crawford Notch_ the artist successfully integrated these various threads of content into a richly textured whole. At once vibrant, vital, and beautiful, the painting is also provocatively expressive of instability, change, and uncertainty.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication _American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I,_ pages 87-95, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-19th-century-part-1.pdf


  • Title: A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch)
  • Creator: Thomas Cole
  • Date Created: 1839
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 102 x 155.8 cm (40 3/16 x 61 5/16 in.) framed: 135.9 x 189.6 x 14 cm (53 1/2 x 74 5/8 x 5 1/2 in.)
  • Provenance: Commissioned 1839 by Rufus L. Lord [1782-1869], New York.[1] Jonathan Sturges [1802-1874], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut;[2] his son, Henry C. Sturges [d. 1924], Fairfield, Connecticut; his wife, Mrs. Henry C. Sturges, Fairfield, Connecticut; LeRoy Ireland, Philadelphia, probably early 1930s, but certainly by 1944;[3] purchased June 1944 by (Vose Galleries, Boston);[4] sold 5 April 1945 to Sanitary Scale Company, Belvidere, Illinois;[5] acquired 1966 by (Kennedy Galleries, New York); purchased 25 May 1967 by NGA. [1] Lord commissioned the painting from Cole in 1839; see Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., "Thomas Cole at Crawford's Notch," _National Gallery of Art Report and Studies in the History of Art_ 2 (1968): 138. [2] Although there is no documentation, the Sturges family believed that Jonathan Sturges acquired the painting either directly from Rufus Lord or from his estate (letter of 10 November 1967 from Dudley Parker, in NGA curatorial files). Howard Merritt concurs in his letter of 29 October 1967 (in NGA curatorial files). [3] The date Mrs. Sturges sold the painting and to whom are unknown to the Sturgeses. Parker's letter of 10 November 1967 (in NGA curatorial files), states that it was sold "in the depth of the great depression." In a letter of 2 June 1967 (in NGA curatorial files) Robert C. Vose, Jr., states that Vose Galleries purchased the painting from LeRoy Ireland, who "got it from the collection of Mr. H. C. Sturges of Fairfield, Connecticut." [4] According to Vose (letter of 2 June 1967 in NGA curatorial files), the painting was sold to the Sanitary Scale Company while on view in the _Hudson River School_ exhibition at the AIC. [5] Letter of 13 June 1973 from John V. Farwell III (in NGA curatorial files).
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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