Art from the Archives: Berkshires Revisited

In this new series, we’re going to take an unsystematic look at some of the drawings of our collection, with commentary ranging from contemporary letters or journal entries that place the drawings in context, to the free association musings of your friendly “Artchivist.” Our aim is to bring some of these delightful and fascinating visual records to light and share another dimension of the site’s rich collections. For the complete collection, check out this page.

For this post we turn again to work from the Berkshires, but this time the year is 1839 and Fanny and Mary are becoming more independent. We’ll look at just one drawing for this post. It is a curious little piece and poses some interesting questions; in the next post we’ll look at two more drawings from 1839 which are more traditional, and will help frame this one.

Stockbridge, 1839

In 1839, Fanny and her sister Mary rented a house in Stockbridge from the end of June until the beginning of October, just before Fanny’s twenty-second birthday. That summer the two young women delighted in their independence, creating their own home and welcoming their circle of friends. They called their house “Yale Manor” after their landlords, and decorated it in a casual style. Fanny convinced her father to purchase a property in Stockbridge by the “ox-bow” of the Housatonic River and derived much pleasure from visiting this property, writing to her friend Emmeline about its “happy accidents of trees, rocks—views &c…” saying, “I cannot tell you my dear how happy I am here…”

Fanny also expressed relief to Emmeline at being away from the complexities of Boston’s social scene. Being away from one social scene however, did not preclude a social life in Stockbridge. It was, in fact, intensely social, with parties, many beaux, much poetry being read and written, visitors arriving and departing, informal musical and theatrical productions, and expeditions to the various natural attractions. And, of course, Fanny sketched. On July 5th she wrote her brother Tom:

“I pity you in dull Boston; here we are as merry as crickets- & as full of occupation as ants. Jewett will be here tonight or tomorrow….I am fierce for sketching now….”

Ice Glen

Ice Glen was then and remains today, a wild place in Stockbridge, so called because of its plunging ravines and overhanging rocks that sheltered snow deep into the summer. In 1839 Fanny went there several times with her sister, Mary, and others. It was an example of the unruliness of Nature in a landscape that was becoming increasingly cultivated. On June 16th Fanny described it to Emmeline:

Tuesday-Yesterday-we accomplished our mission to the Ice-Glen…. All the beaux including the awkward Mackintosh were put in requisition & a famous scrambling we had over the chaotic masses of rock & trees piled up there as if this wild ravine were the lumber-room of the world. Shawls tied round waists & parasols borne like quivers assisted the picturesque effects which every figure had in such a locale. Mary tried to creep thro’ a hole in a huge rock & seemed inclined to end her days there like the frog – till the gentlemen’s officious assistance being scolded off – she screwed up her courage to emerge. If you ever read Miss S.’s [Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s] “N. England tale” this pass is finely described. With Mr Fields’ good aid I perched myself like crazy Bet on the summit of an enormous rock – so Salvator Rosa like were the surroundings with our party sprawling hither & thither – as if down in a well. After furnishing a first-rate meal to swarms of mosquitoes we emerged to a magnificent view of hill & valley & vowed the next time to furnish ourselves with food & not solely these piquante insects.

Six weeks later Fanny described another visit to her cousin Jewett:

“We lionized Mr. Franklin Dexter thro’ the Ice Glen Monday, -who being an artist & a man of taste admired properly that petrified battle….Our complexions…& dress presented on returning the usual motley wear of soil and mosquitoe’s malice. They beset one, like so many harpies, on taking a few sketches.”

Fanny’s description to Emmeline of the expedition to Ice Glen is one of independence and full engagement with the physical demands of the place. The women remove their shawls and carry their parasols like quivers. Mary scolds off the gentlemen’s assistance, Fanny perches on the summit of an enormous rock out of a desire to be one with her surroundings and in imitation of crazy Bet, a character from Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s A New England Tale. Her description of the day’s events shows her reveling in the unconventionality of that bleak and demanding place, and the picturesqueness it engendered. Passing through Ice Glen was an adventure!

Is this what Fanny captures in her drawing?

Made on the outing with Fanny’s fellow artist, Mr. Franklin Dexter, this sketch appears unfinished, as though the mosquitoes had gotten the better of her. But she kept the drawing anyway. We see fallen trees, boulders, a figure, and a distant mountain. The trees are drawn with confidence, and the small figure—a woman seen from the back, possibly Mary—is nimbly portrayed. But Fanny seems to lose control of her idea somewhere in the middle of the composition and her attempt to create a deep space fails so it is hard to know what is important. Is it the rocks and trees? The small figure seen from the back? Is it her relationship to the landscape?

Fanny made a picture that disregarded pictorial conventions. Think back to those 1835 drawings with their lyrical, clear qualities: foreground, middleground, background, the eye led around and through the image, with resting places on a pond, a church steeple, a mountain-top. This drawing offers nothing like that. It is an awkward assembly of shapes and spaces with a small figure near the center. The broken and fallen trees create a kind of desolation. A large rock hangs dangerously above the figure. The distant mountain seems impossible to attain. Foreground and background are hard to separate, diagonals abound, and visual organization is chaotic. Our eye has no clear direction to take and is given no resting place.

The drawing probably parallels the experience of being in that landscape, so in some ways it is accurate. I think also, that the figure in this landscape is important, even if the drawing as a whole doesn’t make that clear. In the middle of all this chaos Fanny shows us a small woman, seen from the back. She looks downward and to her right, but at what, we do not know. Her appearance there is startling.

In Catharine Sedgwick’s A New-England Tale, the young Jane Elton, orphaned and being raised by a strict, unloving woman, is trying to find her place in the world and is helped by her encounters with a variety of characters. Crazy Bet, the character Fanny thought of when mounting the boulder, brought Jane into that “wild trackless region…through a pass…that none knows but the wild bird and the wild woman.” As they entered the ravine in the dark of night, crazy Bet admonished Jane to “follow me, and fear not” and in following, Jane was “inspired with almost supernatural courage.” While there, crazy Bet ascended to the top of an immense rock where “she looked like the wild genius of the savage scene, and she seemed to breathe its spirit…”

When Fanny scrambled among these rocks she had this passage in mind. Fanny admired and loved Catharine Sedgwick as a relative, a friend, and as a woman of intellect and spirit. Maybe in this drawing Fanny was searching for her own way to describe how a young woman might appear in the midst of the wildness, and maybe part of that “wildness” was deciding what direction her young life would take. Fanny was twenty-one, and of a marriageable age, but she was enjoying her growing intellect and freedom, and enjoying her developing skills and social confidence. Is it possible that in her expeditions to the Ice Glen Fanny was also exploring her own ideas of independence? And that, in this small sketch Fanny gives voice to an underlying question about what her life path would be, and about whether she would choose a conventional, or an unconventional, life? We do not know, but this drawing, incomplete though it is, offers a tantalizing glimpse of what she may have been thinking.


Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19153, Ice-Glen, July 29th 1839. sketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 20257, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, 1825-1961, Series II. Correspondence, Letters from Frances Longfellow, 1839. See especially: FEAL to Emmeline Austin Wadsworth (EAW) 1839-06-16, 1839-07-07, and 1839-July; FEAL to Isaac Appleton Jewett (IAJ) 1839-07-30; and FEAL to TGA 1839-07-05.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 21599, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow journal, August through October, 1839.

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, A New England Tale New York: E. Bliss & E. White, 1822, pp. 137-143. Accessed through Internet Archives:, 2017-03-02.


Art from the Archives: Berkshires

In this new bi-weekly series, we’re going to take an unsystematic look at some of the drawings of our collection, with commentary ranging from contemporary letters or journal entries that place the drawings in context, to the free association musings of your friendly “Artchivist.” Our aim is to bring some of these delightful and fascinating visual records to light and share another dimension of the site’s rich collections. For the complete collection, go here.

No. 2: Drawing the Berkshire Countryside 

This week I want to look at a few more of Fanny Appleton’s drawings from the summer of 1835, as well as highlight some journal passages which provide specific information about these drawings, and others. These passages also give insight into what Fanny was thinking over the course of that summer and help us understand her response to her natural surroundings.

From the time of her arrival in July to the end of the summer,  Fanny writes about participating in all kinds of “country” activities like berrying, milking cows, making cream cheese, visiting friends and relatives, taking walks and drives, and dancing. She writes about the landscape and the weather, and occasionally philosophizes on the Divine presence she finds in nature:

I vainly try to reconcile myself to these awful whispers of the Divinity, & can never cease wondering at the indifference of most people….The ghastly & livid smiles of the lightning glared over the sulky clouds like a fiend, over his helpless victim, triumphing in his weakness—& tossing about his dishevelled hair with his burning fingers—When the storm was over, the sky in the west assumed the most magnificent & wonderful appearance that I ever saw.

She also writes about sketching. On July 13th she spends time with her cousin:

Picked flowers and felt “delightfully un-cityfied. …rambled with Willie down to the river, through the fields—where I staid 3 hours, sketching the ruralities, & enjoying the “breezes which blew thro’ the trees—

 One week later on July 20th:

After breakfast Tom & I strolled down to the lovely Housatonic to sketch away in good earnest. He carried a stool for my accomadation, [sic] which looked as if we were “going a milking.” But we were going to draw cows in another fashion—Horrible! After scrambling over some few fences & wading thro’ the “dew spent” grass we found a most enchanting location where two branches of the river meet with a lovely little island between, as if formed for a pic nic. Here we ensconced ourselves in the shade, & sketched away lustily for 2 hours—I very much amused by two urchins who clambered a tree over my head to see what wondrous mystery I was weaving, & exclaimed “Why! the lady has got that tree right down on the paper!” There were a thousand little glimpses of scenery we longed to immortalize but the pencils were bad & the morning had flown.

On drives, she also records impressions of scenery: “After dinner I took a drive with Father in an open vehicle to Lanesboro, which is a beautiful road & along the shore of a pretty lake—the beauty of the valley & mountains led us on….”

I wonder if it isn’t the same scene that she drew on August 6th: “Took quite a nice sketch of the little pond—seated on a Virginia fence with Aunt Martha reading by me….”

In this first drawing Fanny shows her developing talent, and her sophistication. She deftly uses established conventions, framing the image with a fence, a road, and trees that direct our eye into and around the composition’s focus on the pond, and then to the farther hills. The nearest fence, and its slightly more distant companion follow the gentle arc of the foreground making it feel like we are standing on a little rise above this peaceful pond. Fanny creates a sense of distance through scale and the use of atmospheric perspective, employing her pencil with confidence to mark out the fence and areas of special interest, like the middle-ground trees, with strong, vigorous marks, and to describe the mountains and soft clouds with subtle shading. There is a kind of familiarity to the drawing, and an intimacy and peace in the view across the pond and valley toward the partially cleared hills. The composition is multi-layered, and rewards extended looking.

Where did Fanny learn these conventions, and what models was she looking at?

Interest in the visual arts in Boston in the late 1820s and early 1830s was growing. We can imagine that Fanny’s first art teacher was her mother, Maria, who was also gifted, and educated in drawing. As a young married woman, Maria Theresa Gold Appleton purchased artwork; and around the time of their marriage in 1806, Nathan and Maria each had their portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart. In 1827 the Boston Athenaeum opened Boston’s first picture gallery, allowing women to visit and giving well-off Bostonians a chance to see both European and American art. Also around 1827, German artist Francis Graeter arrived in Boston to become drawing master in Elizabeth Peabody’s school, which Fanny attended. Graeter encouraged young students to draw from nature and to keep sketchbooks and journals concurrently, and to return to their work later for re-drawing and reflection. Perhaps this is where Fanny learned these habits. And Fanny had friends and peers with whom she corresponded, and with whom she may well have gathered to look at, and share one another’s work.

Her journal also gives another clue as to how Fanny saw the landscape in her reference to Ruysdael, perhaps Salomon Ruysdael, a 17th century Dutch landscape artist:

After church Mary & I meandered down to the Housatonic, where we dawdled away an hour or two, seated on the grass & gazing at the swollen stream whose silvery rippling called to mind other days & other waters….the intensely blue sky & the grand waves of snowy clouds—with a stripe of sunshine in the distance & a spire shooting to heaven were more Ruysdaelish than anything I have seen.—

Nine days after her drawing of the pond, Fanny was again inspired to draw. Passing a view of Saddle Mountain on the way to take a walk with friends, she recognized the potential of this fine scene and understood its appeal to her senses, emotion, and perception. On her return she decided to stop and sketch.

Mr. Clay came & we made arrangements to set off to explore the famous cave we have been so long contemplating….At the place where we alighted to commence our walk was a beautiful view of Saddle Mountain, blue & misty, with the village spires peering out below it & a grand rock for foreground. This, I sketched on my return. We had a veritable scramble …While I sketched the view the Clays drove on to Lenox & Mary & Mr M. sentimentalized over a book….

Fanny was proud of this second drawing. It is filled with all kinds of detail: the handsome rock she first noticed, a series of diminishing fields separated by rows of trees, a farm worker turning hay, a horse and rider proceeding down the road. We see the spires of two churches, parts of buildings among the trees, and several handsome, gnarled trees. In the distance, presiding over it all is Saddle Mountain, as it was then known, just beginning to be called “Grey lock.”

This drawing has many of the same elements that make the drawing of August 6th successful. It is a skillful composition with a clear and interesting foreground that leads toward a middle-ground that speaks of habitation and cultivation, and finally brings our eye to the distant mountains, which in this drawing are farther away, and grander. But I think this drawing also seems to have more energy to it; perhaps I feel that because of what Fanny wrote two weeks later:

I took a long last look of Saddle Mountain from my window & felt sad indeed that I should no more watch the echo of the clouds along its ever-changing summit; ever beautiful, in sunshine or in mist: with the glory of morning flooding it with light, or its cloud-canopied brow shrinking into heaven—or its noon-day, shadow-haunted grandeur, or its twilight wanness, faint blue & undefinable—“lovelier than all”. Oh ye immortal mirrors of Heaven’s gloom or joy how my soul clings to you: ye glorious aristocracy of earth must I not revere your towering majesty. “How far is society in the presence of…skies & waters & everlasting hills!”…. Have I not felt its poverty at Niagara, the Ocean, & here!

The next day she continued:

Must I say that I felt almost sadder at parting with the mountains than with the kind hearts that have made such sunshine around us. Nature has been the one friend I have vainly sought elsewhere—& here where it is grander & lovelier than many mortal spirits, I have basked in its every shadow with a visionary’s fervor.

The act of drawing placed Fanny in direct relationship with this evocative and meaningful landscape. It offered her engagement with a source of inspiration, and challenged her to use her skills to create something of value. The act of drawing allowed her to connect with Nature, which had been her “one friend” through the summer. In these last journal entries Fanny reflects on the power of nature for her, and mourns its impending loss from her daily life. Returning to the city, Fanny must have known that her consolation for this loss would be her memories which had been cultivated and preserved in her journals and drawings, keepsakes of the landscape’s sustaining presence.

Brown, Maurice & Diana Korzenik, Art Making and Education, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1993. See pp. 134-135.

Korhnauser, Elizabeth Mankin, Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Yale University Press, 2003. See introduction.

Korzenik, Diana, “Face to Face: Fanny Appleton and the Old Man of the Mountain”, Historical New Hampshire, vol. 63, No. 2, Fall 2009

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19165, 6., Aug 6th 1835 sketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19508, 8. Saddle Mountain or Grey lock. Aug 15thsketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 21586, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow journal, 1835.

Marshall, Megan, The Peabody Sisters, Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt, 2006. See chapter 2.

Miller, David C., ed. American Iconology, Yale University Press, 1995. See Kenneth John Myers, “On the Cultural Construction of Landscape”.

Novak, Barbara, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875, Oxford University Press, 1980, 2007.

Sears, John F, Sacred Places: American Tourist Attraction s in the Nineteenth Century, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.