Frozen Lake, Alaska, is number AK1-18 in The Annotated Checklist of Alaska Paintings by Rockwell Kent, by Scott R Ferris and Richard V West. We would like to thank Scott Ferris for his assistance with this entry.
A beautiful evocation of the unique light and colors of the Alaskan landscape, Frozen Lake, Alaska belongs to a series of paintings and drawings Rockwell Kent executed between 1918 and 1919 that reverently celebrate the awesome power of the untouched beauty of the Arctic. Also a printmaker, writer and illustrator, Kent’s body of work transports the viewer to the rugged wilderness the artist experienced on his explorations in remote destinations, from Alaska and Greenland to Tierra del Fuego.
In 1918, Kent traveled to Alaska with his eldest son and settled in a cabin on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, where they lived from August until the following March. During this time, Kent drew, painted and meditated in the vast and pristine landscape. According to Scott Ferris, the present work depicts a rare view amongst Kent’s Alaskan canvases “looking west towards the steep, tree covered range of Callisto Head, behind which rests Bear Glacier; and beyond that, the peaks of Aialik Peninsula.” The viewer’s vantage point, Ferris continues, is “on the east side of the lake which lies behind the strip of low level forest, the buffer between the lake and Resurrection Bay, where Kent’s cabin resides.” (unpublished letter, March 29, 2021)
Following his Alaskan travels, in 1920 Kent published his journal, Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventures in Alaska, which recounted his day-to-day experience of his time on Fox Island. His entry from January 10, 1919 recalls the vista of Frozen Lake, Alaska: “The mountain tops, trees, rocks, and all, are covered with new snow; the valleys and the lower levels are black where rain has cleared the trees. It is so beautiful here at times that it seems hard to bear.” (as quoted in Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventures in Alaska, New York, 1920, p. 154)
Glimmering with glowing bands of arctic light and color, Frozen Lake, Alaska epitomizes Kent’s unique perspective on the unspoiled Alaskan terrain. Upon his return, Kent nostalgically recalled the landscape of his former Alaskan home, “I crave snow-topped mountains, dreary wastes and the cruel northern sea with its hard horizons at the edge of the world where infinite space begins. Here skies are clearer and deeper and, for the great wonders they reveal, a thousand times more eloquent of the eternal mystery than those of softer lands.” (as quoted in "Alaska Drawings," Arts and Decoration, June 1919, p. 71)
The present work has descended in the family of J.J. Ryan, one of Kent’s dedicated patrons and friends. Joseph J. Ryan (1913-1970), a grandson of Wall Street financier Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851-1928), had a supremely adventurous spirit, with passions including aviation and alpine climbing. At his Oak Ridge estate in Virginia, which he also commissioned Kent to paint, Ryan amassed one of the most important private collections of the artist’s work, including Frozen Lake, Alaska.