In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

…next came the artists and rusticators.

Thomas Cole’s View across Frenchman’s Bay from Mount Desert Island after a Squall, 1845. Oil on canvas. (Cincinnati Art Museum)
Thomas Cole’s View across Frenchman’s Bay from Mount Desert Island after a Squall, 1845. Oil on canvas. (Cincinnati Art Museum)

The 1844 visit of New York painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) marked the start of Mount Desert Island’s influx of summer vacationers. Cole founded the Hudson River School, a famous movement of landscape and seascape painters influenced by romantic primitivism. Their art idealized the beauty and grandeur of the natural wilderness.

Cole inspired other famous artists to follow in his wake—including Frederic Edwin Church and Fitz Henry Lane. Their paintings aroused great curiosity about the island’s dramatic scenery. These canvas “calls of the wild” influenced the vacation plans of people seeking relief from the noise and pollution of industrialized urban life. Hoping that the “cool waters of Eden” might invigorate body and soul, vacationers, referred to as rusticators, soon followed the artists.

Frederic E. Church’s Fog off Mount Desert, 1850. Oil on academy board. (John Wilmerding Collection. National Gallery of Art)
Frederic E. Church’s Fog off Mount Desert, 1850. Oil on academy board. (John Wilmerding Collection. National Gallery of Art)


Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it? We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly. . . . May we at times turn from the ordinary pursuits of life to the pure enjoyment of rural nature; which is in the soul like a fountain of cool waters to the way-worn travelers.
-Thomas Cole, painter, 1836