By John Boudreau, Communications Intern
In 1869, Reverend William H.H. Murray published a book entitled Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks, which detailed the health benefits of vacationing in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. His book was a sensation, and scores of tourists rushed north from New York City to take advantage of the area’s clean air and pristine landscapes. Their vacations emphasized outdoor activity—hiking, fishing, and hunting—a far cry from the leisurely beach holidays popular at the time.
One such tourist was Winslow Homer. In 1870, he produced one of his first works set in the Adirondacks, aptly entitled An Adirondack Lake. It would, in some ways, set the mold for his later paintings: the Adirondack landscape is a tangible presence in the painting, but so too is the figure of a wilderness guide. These guides were often local men who took tourists around to prime hunting and fishing locations and otherwise ensured that their paying customers enjoyed their time in the woods. The guide soon became a popular archetype—“‘rough fellows, good shots, brawny and big of limb, the descendants of [James Fenimore Cooper’s] Leatherstocking’” as the Boston Evening Transcript put it in 1892. These are the figures we see most visibly in paintings like Two Guides, but the guide also plays a minor role in other Homer paintings—notice the figure in the boat in An October Day.
Chief among Homer’s many Adirondack watercolors, An October Day captures the region as few other artists could. “The shores and mountains are splendidly dressed in the red and yellow robes of autumn, and there are vivid blue tones in the water of the lake. The coloring is intense, but it is neither unreal nor unpictorial,” the New-York Tribune raved in 1890.
This realistic element in Homer’s paintings was arguably one of his greatest strengths. He made the Adirondacks come to life—no longer stationary landscapes nor an abstract stretch of forest, but a living environment that tourists, woodsmen, and animals inhabited. For those who couldn’t experience it for themselves, Homer’s Adirondack paintings served as a breath of fresh air.
A great way to learn more about Homer’s relationship with the Adirondacks is to attend the Clark’s next free lecture. Scholar David Tatham, who has published extensively on Homer and the Adirondacks, will lecture on Sunday, July 21 at 3 pm. His talk, “The Call of the Once-Wild: Winslow Homer and the Adirondacks 1870–1910,” will explore the holdings in the Clark’s collection as well as other Adirondack-themed paintings by Homer.
 Nicolai Cikovsky Jr, “Something More than Meets the Eye” in Winslow Homer, eds. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr and Franklin Kelly, (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1995), 260.
 Susannah Maurer in Winslow Homer, the Clark Collection, ed. Marc Simpson, (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institue, Williamstown, MA, 2013), 95.