History And Context
Rockwell Kent painted Mountain Lake: Tierra del Fuego between 1922 and 1925. For Duncan Phillips, Kent's art embodied "the eager linear expression of his own abounding energy and gusto for physical adventure in wild and desolate regions," an appropriate description of the small oil panel entitled Mountain Lake. A record of his 1922 sailing adventure to the Tierra del Fuego region of South America indicates that Kent made many small on-the-spot sketches of the site. It is unknown whether Kent completed this painting during his time in South America or after his return to the States in 1923. Kent described the view from his boat, which was anchored in the bay of Bahía Blanca in the Admiralty Sound:
From our anchorage at Bahia Blanca I looked across the half mile wide bay to a steep shore densely and darkly wooded with the Fuegan birch and oak. Immediately behind and far above these foothills rose lofty mountains, their lower, shaly slopes patched with scant vegetation, their upper reaches dazzling white with the past winter's snows. Our bay was terminated a mile or two away by a glacial moraine behind which rose the emerald and turquoise walls of a broad glacier and, beyond the high horizon of the glacier's plane, a few far distant, snow-clad peaks.
In Mountain Lake, Kent abandoned his earlier preference for rich impasto and surface texture in favor of a thin, sleek finish. The space, arbitrarily adjusted into abstract, flat patterns, reflects a stylistic kinship with both precisionism—an American movement that was widely influential in the early 1920s—and woodblock printing.
When Kent returned to New York, he had with him "twenty or more large Fuegan paintings to restretch and work upon, and...many small studies to bring to completion." These works were first shown at Wildenstein Gallery, New York, in April 1925, after Kent completed a book on his Tierra del Fuego adventures. Despite positive reviews, Kent believed that modernism was alienating collectors who had a greater affinity towards realist paintings. Phillips, however, greatly appreciated Kent's work and purchased Mountain Lake as a representation of the artist's adventures in South America, intending it for his “Rockwell Kent Room.” Phillips first exhibited the painting in 1926, writing in the exhibition catalogue, "Kent [did] not need abstract vision for he moves us like mighty music with images drawn from his own romantic experience."