Frederic Edwin Church

gigatos | January 9, 2022


Frederic Edwin Church († April 7, 1900 in New York) was a major representative of the Hudson River School, a grouping of American artists known for precisely painted, often dramatic and allegorical landscape paintings. Thomas Cole, the group”s founder, was his teacher. Similar to the latter, Church also made a point of giving his works a meaning that went beyond the mere depiction of nature.

Another trip followed in the spring of 1857, nine weeks exclusively in Ecuador, from Guayaquil east to the volcanoes of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Sangay. Church”s companion was Charles Remy Mignot, a landscape painter friend. The artistic results of the two trips solidified the reputation Church enjoyed. Along with Albert Bierstadt, he became the most successful American painter of his generation. By 1850, exploration of the North Sea was a matter of great public interest, especially with the spectacularly failed Franklin expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. Impressed by such reports, Church hired a ship in 1859 with Louis Legrand Noble, Thomas Cole”s biographer, to sketch icebergs in the North Atlantic between Labrador and Greenland.

In 1860 Church bought a farm near Hudson (New York) a small town in the Hudson River valley, and married Isabel Carnes (1836-1899), whom he had met the year before at a New York presentation of one of his paintings. In 1863 Church was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Church”s first two children died of diphtheria in 1865. Church and his wife went to Jamaica for several months, where he studied intensively the botany and light of the tropics. Four children born in the following years remained alive. With the first of them and with Isabel”s mother, in 1867 the couple made a family trip of 18 months duration through Europe and the Middle East (with the present territories of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt), Church made side trips to Athens and to the rock city of Petra in Jordan to work.

Frederic Edwin Church was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Church”s major works seem like direct renderings of real landscapes, but they are mostly free adaptations of the oil and pencil sketches he had brought back from his travels. He himself called them “compositions.” From the sketches he had made of rivers, waterfalls, and volcanoes on the 1853 trip, he created The Andes of Ecuador (1855), at about 1.20 × 1.80 m Church”s largest painting to date, along with other large formats. In January 1858, after his second trip, he began work on The Heart of the Andes, a depiction of a tropical landscape in which various elements of his numerous surviving travel sketches can be seen. Painted in detail throughout, the composition renders a broadly defined section of the landscape, with views of a river course in lush vegetation, high plateaus, and snow-capped mountain peaks-more than can normally be captured in a real scene. On April 27, 1859, Church presented the unusually large horizontal format (about 170 × 300 cm) for the first time in a special staging in New York. Curtains around the frame created the illusion of a view out the window, the room was darkened, only the painting was in the light. The audience sat on benches in front of the painting, it was fitted with opera glasses to better see the details. Exotic plants enhanced the desired impression. In three weeks, more than 12,000 visitors paid 25 cents each for admission. After that, the presentation was on display for two years in several other American cities and in London. The work was finally sold for $10,000, the highest amount paid for the work of a living American artist up to that time.

Church”s painting Icebergs: The North, a result of his 1859 ship voyage, almost as large as The Heart of the Andes, was shown in New York and London in 1861. Other large-scale paintings of tropical and arctic scenes were shown as special events in private galleries. Church was less interested in explicitly moral and religious allegories in landscape painting than his teacher Cole, but he too expressed religious and patriotic sentiments in his work-painting pilgrim crosses in tropical landscapes or intense light displays as in Aurora Borealis (1865) or Rainy Season in the Tropics (1866). His symbolic landscape painting Our Banner in the Sky was painted in 1861, shortly after the Confederate storming of Fort Sumter (South Carolina), a key event at the beginning of the American War of Secession (1861-1865). Church was a staunch supporter of the Union of the Northern States and depicted their flag here as a celestial. The motif was widely used in the Northern states in a modified form as a lithograph. Well-known paintings that date back to the 1867 European and Middle Eastern voyage include The Parthenon (1871), The Aegean Sea (1877), Landscape in Greece (1873), Sunrise in Syria (1874), and Al Khazneh, Petra (1874).

Church regularly showed his paintings in the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design, the American Art-Union, and the Boston Art Club, along with the work of Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, John Frederick Kensett, and Jasper Francis Cropsey. Critics and collectors appreciated the particular form of landscape painting, and its creators were collectively referred to as the Hudson River School.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the interest of collectors and the public in the artists of this grouping and their work waned considerably. Around 1900, at the time of his death, Church was almost forgotten. Only after 1960 did recognition for his art gradually resume. Church”s son Louis lived in Olana with his wife until 1964. Since 1965, the property has been designated a National Historic Landmark, is managed by the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and is open to the public.


  1. Frederic Edwin Church
  2. Frederic Edwin Church
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