The Cornish Colony

painting of flower garden in bloom
‘Saint-Gaudens’s Garden’ by Edith Prellwitz, oil on canvas, H 19 x W 23 IN, [1898], SAGA 1567.

The Cornish Colony was a flourishing community of artists, writers, and other creatives that congregated around Cornish, New Hampshire at the turn of the century.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, the colony grew to encompass a variety of painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights, actors, essayists, landscape designers and other patrons of the arts. This imaginative group of visionaries drew their inspiration from the scenic landscape and cultivated a community of conversation, critique, and socialization relating to their work.

Augustus and Augusta Saint-Gaudens were central figures in the Cornish Colony. Other notable members include Louis St. Gaudens (Augustus’ brother and fellow sculptor), Annetta Johnson Saint-Gaudens (Louis’ wife and fellow sculptor), Stephen Parrish and his son Maxfield (etcher/painter and painter/illustrator, respectively), Kenyon Cox (painter), Percy Mackaye (poet), and Charles Platt (etcher and architect). A majority of these members initially resided in the area during the summer, opting to return to urban areas such as New York City during the winter.

painting of brick house with tree
'St. Gaudens House' by George de Forest Brush, paint on sandpaper and wood, L 12.25 x W 11 IN, (1885 or 1892), SAGA 2810.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens founded the Colony when he moved to Cornish for the summer of 1885. Saint-Gaudens first rented a house from his friend Charles Beaman, a prominent New York lawyer who owned property in the area. With its sweeping view of Mt. Ascutney, Saint-Gaudens found the property to be a compelling environment to work on his “Standing Lincoln” sculpture for the summer. The sculptor brought his family and assistants with him and soon after, other creatives started to flock to the area. Between the fall of 1885 and spring of 1886, a painter named Thomas Dewing migrated to the area and fell in love with it. Although Saint-Gaudens is credited with starting the Colony, the sculptor himself says that Dewing’s words of praise attracted many more people to Cornish. Saint-Gaudens continued to rent the house from Beaman until 1891, when he finally purchased the property. They would continue to summer there until the Saint-Gaudens family moved to Cornish full-time in 1900.

Many artists took direct inspiration from the landscape and architecture around them. When George de Forest Brush (1855-1941) arrived in Cornish, he stayed on the Saint-Gaudens property with his wife. He painted the Saint-Gaudens house nestled into the lush, green landscape, with Mt. Ascutney regally portrayed in the background. Winston Churchill (1871-1947) was another painter and prominent novelist of the Cornish Colony. His painting, ‘For Mrs. Spaulding,’ depicts the contrasting greenery and architecture of a house up the road in Plainfield, New Hampshire. For many of the members of the colony, the rural landscape of Cornish supplied a creative interlude from their full-time urban lifestyles and is apparent in their work from the time.
black and white photo of group dressed in classical-inspired costumes
Cornish Colony: Cast of the Masque. Photo courtesy of NPS. #2242. ‘A Masque of Ours, The Gods and the Golden Bowl’ program. 1905. Photograph of printed program. SAGA 8.
A pivotal event for the colony happened in 1905, when the artists decided to put on a large-scale play in honor of the Saint-Gaudens’ twentieth anniversary of their arrival in Cornish. Entitled “A Masque of ‘Ours,’ The Gods and The Golden Bowl,” the outdoor performance was inspired by plays of the late Renaissance. Written by the dramatist Louis Shipman (1869-1933), with an introduction by poet Percy Mackaye (1875-1956) and assistance from actor John Blair (1875-1948) and musician-composer Arthur Whiting (1861-1936), the performance was put on in a grove on the Aspet property. Sixty-five members of the Colony participated, dressing as various Greek gods and goddesses. Saint-Gaudens himself was wheeled in on a chariot. This masque represented a union of many talents from the Cornish Colony and represents the strong friendships that blossomed in the Cornish countryside. Many relics from this Masque still reside in the collection, including this playbill that displays the signatures of many of the participants.

The Cornish Colony continued in the area until Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ death in 1907. After this, the remaining artists slowly started to drift away. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park preserves the legacy of the Cornish Colony, commemorating the art and community that was built here.

Works Cited and Further Resources
Colby, Virginia Reed, and James B. Atkinson. Footprints of the Past: Images of Cornish, New Hampshire & the Cornish Colony. Cornish, N.H.: Cornish Historical Society, 2010.
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, and Homer Saint-Gaudens. The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. New York: The Century Co., 1913.
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Division of History. “Augustus Saint Gaudens – The Man and His Art.” John W. Bond. FNP-HH-71-30. Washington, D.C., 1967.
University of New Hampshire, and Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery. “A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin.” Durham: University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, 1985.

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park

Last updated: August 11, 2023