Fort Ticonderoga is well known for its 18th-century military collections and vast library and archival collections, but few people realize that it preserves an important art collection as well. From the very beginning of the museum’s collecting endeavors, obtaining art in the form of portraits of people associated with the site’s history, depictions of events from the Fort’s past, and prints and photographs of the Ticonderoga peninsula’s landscape has been an important focus of its collecting activities. Today, as a result of more than a century of collecting, Fort Ticonderoga’s art collections are viewed by many scholars as one of the Fort’s most important historical resources.
The highlights of the art collection were assembled into a special exhibit The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the Eyes of America’s Great Artists. The Art of War, though, is not just an exhibition of Fort Ticonderoga’s collection of art; it is an interpretation of the Fort’s long history through the eyes of the artists who visited the site or painted people associated with its history. The exhibit, opened in May 2011, brought together over 50 of the museum’s most important works in a single exhibition to highlight the significance of the collection and present as visual narrative of the site’s history from the earliest French occupation of the site to the beginning of the restoration of the Fort in 1909.
Included in the exhibition are several important “firsts.” Significant in the history of the Lake George region, the exhibit includes both the earliest-known painted and printed views of the Lake George landscape dating to 1759. The first published view of Fort Ticonderoga’s ruins from 1819 illustrates the Fort’s importance in 19th-century tourism. The star of the show is arguably Thomas Cole’s epic painting Gelyna, or A View Near Ticonderoga which holds the distinction of being Cole’s earliest-known signed and dated work.
The exhibit also includes works by many other important artists spanning more than 150 years of American history. 18th-century military portraiture represented in the exhibit features the work of several important artists such as Allan Ramsay with his portrait of Major General James Abercromby, Charles Wilson Peale who painted Pennsylvania militia officer, Captain John Knox, and Charles Peale Polk with his wonderful portrait of General George Washington. The Ticonderoga landscape was skillfully rendered on paper by Hugh Reinagle as can be seen in the earliest-printed view of the Fort’s ruins, and prolific Adirondack photographer, Seneca Ray Stoddard’s work is well represented by his remarkable stereo photography of the Fort and its landscape in the 1870s and 1880s.
For the time that this exhibit has been presented to the public, it has served an important purpose in helping to visually introduce the Fort’s guests to the complexities of the site’s history. Like all special exhibits, however, this exhibit must eventually end. At the end of October The Art of War will be taken down. Some of the art will be incorporated into new exhibitions, others will return to storage. But the exhibit will enjoy a new life by being reorganized and relocated in reproduction form to the lobby spaces inside the Mars Education Center where it will continue to provide windows into the Fort’s past and insight into the site’s long and remarkable history.
Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga