For Duncan Phillips, Rockwell 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 Kent’s 1922 sailing adventure to the Tierra del Fuego region of South America, it is one of many small studies that may have been painted on site. Kent described the view from his boat, which was anchored in the bay of Bahía Blanca in the Admiralty Sound, noting the emerald green bay and beyond it steep cliffs, heavily wooded, leading to high mountains, still capped with snow.
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 with the simplified forms of woodblock printing, a medium in which Kent worked over a long period of time.
Kent brought many paintings from this trip back to New York with him in 1923. Though they were well reviewed, the artist sensed a declining interest in realism, despite high degree of simplification, verging on abstraction, present in this image. Phillips, however, greatly appreciated Kent's work and purchased Mountain Lake as a representation of the artist's adventures in South America. 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."