Home Arts and Leisure Six Iconic Summer Paintings of New England

Six Iconic Summer Paintings of New England

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New England has no shortage of summer paintings. For centuries, artists have fled cities in summer for the cool air by the seashore or in the mountains. Or perhaps they just took a short train ride from New York or Boston.

They first ventured forth to the White Mountains in the early 19th century. They explored almost as much as they painted. Later their paintings promoted tourism.

Then summer art colonies began burgeoning throughout New England. In addition to the White Mountain painters, New Hampshire had Cornish and Dublin. Connecticut had Cos Cob and Old Lyme. Massachusetts had Provincetown, the Berkshires, Gloucester and the Lynn Beach Art Colony. Maine had Ogunquit, Monhegan and Skowhegan – as well as every other island and coastal community.

Even tiny Rhode Island and Vermont had their own artist colonies. Vermont had the Dorset painters, and painters favored the South Kingstown hamlet of Matunuck.

So here are six summer paintings, one for each New England state.

The Couch on the Porch, Cos Cob

Couch on the Porch by Childe Hassam

Childe Hassam lived in New York during the winter but in summertime he ventured to various artist colonies. Beginning in the 1890s he began visiting the Cos Cob art colony in Greenwich, Conn. Later, he also stayed at Miss Florence Griswold’s Old Lyme art colony.

Hassam, observed the New York Times, was a priest high in the councils of the increasing tribe of American Impressionsts.

Hassam painted The Couch on the Porch in 1914 in Cos Cob. The art colony began when one of the first American Impressionists, John Henry Twachtman, moved to a farmhouse in Greenwich in 1886.

One critic wrote that Cos Cob was to American Impressionism in the 1890s what Argenteuil was to French Impressionism in the 1870s.

Instead of historical scenes or famous people, the impressionsts painted landscapes and scenes of everyday middle-class life. They relied on natural light, quick brush strokes and a bright palette.

A short train ride took Twachtman’s friends from New York City to Greenwich. Some stayed at his home or boarded at the Holley House, now known as the Bush-Holley House. The colonists included such artists as J. Alden Weir, Robert Reid and Theodore Robinson, as well as writers Lincoln Steffens and Willa Cather.

Summer, North Haven

The American Impressionists just loved to paint young women in white dresses outside in bright sunshine. Frank Weston Benson mastered the theme in many of his summer paintings.

Frank Weston Benson, was born in Salem, Mass., and he grew up with a love of the outdoors. As a boy he spent many hours duck hunting in the marshes around Salem.

In 1882, when he turned 21, his parents gave him $2,000 for a trip to Europe. He studied the old masters as well as the work of Claude Monet. When he returned, he established himself as an artist, married and had four chldren, which he frequently painted.

“I follow the light, where it comes from, where it goes,” he once said.

He enjoyed success as an artist, winning many medals for his work. During the summer, Frank Weston Benson painted on the Maine island of North Haven, as well as in the New Hampshire towns of New Castle and Dublin. He painted Summer in 1909 using his wife and three daughters as models.


Eventually, critics derided his paintings as “too pretty,” so he returned to his first love. Benson mastered waterfowl etchings, and even designed the second Federal Duck Stamp.

Cape Cod Morning, Truro

From the time he was 29 in 1912, Edward Hopper spent nearly every summer in New England until his death at 85 in 1967.

He painted the dunes and cottages on Cape Cod, the rolling hills and farms of Vermont, the rocky shore of Maine, the tenements and fishing fleets of Cape Ann.

From 1930 to 1967, Hopper spent most of every summer on Cape Cod, creating a number of summer paintings. He explained why he chose the Cape in 1962:

I chose to live here because it has a longer summer season. I like Maine very much, but it gets so cold in the fall. There’s something soft about Cape Cod that doesn’t appeal to me too much. But there’s a beautiful light there — very luminous – perhaps because it’s so far out to sea; an island almost.

He loved to suggest the inner life of human beings, something he called “a vast realm.” He also once said all he wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.

Cape Cod Morning, painted in 1950, is quintessential Hopper. He captures a feeling of tension and isolation, as well as sunlight on the side of a house.

Saco River, White Mountains

In the 19th century, hundreds of artists traveled to the White Mountains to paint the splendor of what was then wilderness.

White Mountain art started in 1826, when a widely reported tragedy began to attract people to the region. Nine members of the Willey household perished in a landslide.

Then Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting, found inspiration in the Willey family tragedy. He painted a landscape called Distant View of the Slide that Destroyed the Willey Family. Other painters followed, and prints and paintings of the White Mountains drew more tourists to the region.

Alfred Thompson Bricher, born in 1837 in Portsmouth, N.H., started out as a businessman in Boston. However, he switched to landscape painting full-time, which turned out to be a good career move. A member of the Hudson River School of Art, he specialized in marinescapes. However, he did make painting forays into the White Mountains, including Summer on the Saco (Mount Chocorua).

Second Beach, Newport

There was nothing middle-class about this scene of Second Beach in Newport, R.I. Worthington Whittredge, a late-Hudson River School painter, painted it in 1878-1880. Newport then ruled as a fashionable summer resort for the Gilded Age elite.

Southern planters had begun coming to Newport to escape the summer heat in the mid-19th century. Northerners then started to arrive and to build lavish summer cottages. When Whittredge painted Second Beach, Newport was still on the way up. The Vanderbilts, for example, had yet to build two of the most opulent “cottages,” the Breakers and Marble House.

This summer painting shows fashionable people dipping their toes in the water and a horse-drawn carriage at the other end of the beach.

Swimming Hole, Arlington

Though born in New York City suburb, Norman Rockwell created the iconography of 20th century small town New England.

Rockwell’s career followed the Golden Age of Illustration a period of brilliant book and magazine illustration. It ran from the 1880s to the 1920s. Rockwell began his studies at the Art Students League of New York in 1911. Inspired by such Golden Age illustrators as Howard Pyle, Rockwell decided to devote himself to illustration.

For 20 years he worked for Boys Life magazine, living in New Rochelle with his wife and three sons. But by 1938, he needed a restart, so he bought a farmhouse in Arlington. Rural Vermont inspired him to develop into the teller of fictional stories about small town America.

He had no interest in the natural beauty around him. Instead, he sought out diners, dentists offices and schoolhouses.

In 1945, he decided to paint a salesman who takes a dip into a swimming hole on a hot summer day.

Rockwell painted his neighbor George Zimmer, who posed as the salesman. It made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, one of seven for which Zimmer modeled. Many of Rockwell’s summer paintings appeared on Post covers.

Rockwell paid close attention to details. In Swimming Hole, he tells the story of the salesman making a long drive and stopping at a swimming hole. He parks his car and methodically takes off his shirt and tie, hangs it up, lays his glasses on a newspaper and then his cigar on a shoe.

“George Zimmer, my model,” Rockwell said, “was an awful good sport. He stripped and I poured several buckets of water over his head to get the effect.”


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