Mount Monadnock

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Mount Monadnock

United States, circa 1918
Oil on panel
Canvas: 48 3/8 × 60 1/2 in. (122.87 × 153.67 cm) Frame: 65 3/8 × 77 × 4 in. (166.05 × 195.58 × 10.16 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by Cecile Bartman (M.2002.51)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

The painting, Mount Monadnock, is one of four Thayer made late in his career of the mountain near the artist’s home in New Hampshire....
The painting, Mount Monadnock, is one of four Thayer made late in his career of the mountain near the artist’s home in New Hampshire. It represents a crucial link between modernist abstract painting and nineteenth-century landscape painting. Thayer stands at the end of a great tradition of transcendentalist landscape painting, one that begins with Thomas Cole. But he also stands as a contemporary of such figures as Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe, and is just as adventurous. Trained in New York and Paris, Thayer quickly made a reputation as a portrait painter. He was a central player in the development of the Society of Artists, in which Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and other European-trained artists transformed the ideals of American painting at the end of the 1870s. By the end of the century, however, Thayer moved permanently to Dublin , New Hampshire , where he concentrated on two kinds of poetic subjects: portraits of women and landscapes, particularly views of Mount Monadnock . The mountain, the subject of poems by Emerson and Thoreau and an inspiration for writers as diverse as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and Willa Cather, was already famous, one of the great spiritual sties of the American landscape. Beginning in 1917, the artist began a monumental series of views of the subject, his last statement about his art and life. The other three are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Freer Art Gallery, and Princeton University Museum. With each painting, the trees in the foreground become clearer, the mountain side a richer purple. LACMA’s painting captures the moment when the tops of the pines begin to emerge from the darkness and the air has warmed slightly, so that pockets of snow shake loose to the ground. The surface of the painting is marked by a freedom and control contained within simple, large areas of tone. The variety and range of brushstrokes can be seen in the small dabs that mark the spruce trees near the mountain’s summit, the long thin white strokes of snow released from the branches of the trees, and the odd floating stroke of dark blue in the forest. Thayer arrived at this conceptual and technical freedom by two routes. The first is immediately evident in the black brushstrokes of the nearest spruce trees: Thayer studied Chinese calligraphy and has translated and naturalized it in his painting. The other is less obvious but just as important for moving Thayer beyond the stylistic limits of his Impressionist colleagues. Thayer was an ardent student of animal camouflage, particularly birds. He was particularly interested in the way in which arbitrary markings in the plumage disrupted the contours of the body so that it faded into the background. Just as he thought of animal skin as a background picture, so he tended to think of his painting surface as something natural. These two wildly different sources are typical of the unusual routes by which American artists arrived at their own version of abstraction, distinct from the work of European avant-garde artists. Celebrating the beauty of the American landscape, and uniting both an interest in Asian art and in natural science, Thayer’s Mount Monadnock is a splendid addition to LACMA’s diverse collections.

About The Era

The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception....
The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception. A modern age marked by technological wonders had begun, and the United States was to be its focal point. Lewis Mumford, one of the country’s most brilliant thinkers, explained that, unlike Europe, “the New World expanded the human imagination.” Young American students still traveled to Europe, especially Paris, for their initiation to art, but the progressive new ideas of cubism, futurism, and surrealism that they imbibed only found their true home in the United States.
As demonstrated by the first generation of modernists in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, American artists rarely abandoned referential ties to the physical world completely. The simplification of form, multiple perspectives, and ideas about the fourth dimension that radical proponents of cubism espoused would find their most compelling American expressions in the fishermen of Marsden Hartley, and the animal bones and skulls of Georgia O’Keeffe. To these artists, abstraction meant the synthesis of personal experience.
The introduction of psychological ideas, first in the form of Sigmund Freud’s discussion of the unconscious and later in the writings and art of the surrealists, found an enthusiastic audience in America. Such new concepts not only expanded ideas about the human mind but also encouraged the liberation of social conduct, in particular, sexual mores. Women increasingly became involved in creative aspects of the new modern age. In 1934 the Los Angeles artists Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson issued the only surrealist manifesto to appear in the United States, thereby demonstrating that in a relatively short time California had seriously challenged New York as the leader of the brave new world.


  • About the Era.
  • Cao, Maggie M. The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018.
  • Cao, Maggie M. "Abbott Thayer and the Invention of Camouflage." Art History 39, no.3 (2016): 486-511.