Frederic Edwin Church (born in Hartford, Connecticut on May 4, 1826 and died April 7, 1900 in Greenport, New York) was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, perhaps best known for painting large panoramic landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets, but also sometimes depicting dramatic natural phenomena that he saw during his travels to the Arctic and Central and South America. Church’s paintings put an emphasis on light and a romantic respect for natural detail. In his later years, Church painted classical Mediterranean and Middle Eastern scenes and cityscapes.
The financial ease of his father, a goldsmith and watchmaker who will also be the president of the insurance company Aetna, allows Frederic Edwin Church to devote himself early to art. At the age of 18, after a meeting favored by Daniel Wadsworth, a neighbor and friend of the Church family, young Frederic became a small town in Catskill, New York, the only student of Thomas Cole the founder of the Hudson River School. Later, Frederic Edwin Church will be considered the leader of the second generation of this American artistic movement.
In 1849, Frederic Edwin Church was elected to the American Academy of Design, becoming the youngest member of this cenacle. Shortly thereafter, he sold his first important work at Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.
He settled around 1850 in New York, where he had a first student, William James Stillman, and continued to paint landscapes of New England. At this time, it is customary, from spring to autumn, to travel, often on foot, while drawing. Every winter he settled in his studio to use his sketches to paint very large size paintings, and sell them for increasingly large sums. This first period of Church’s work still owes much to the style of his master Thomas Cole, but already pierces some singularities of his temperament. Unlike Cole, who favors ethereal, almost mythological compositions in his landscapes, Church prefers scenes in which life and fantasy are combined in a setting where the artist makes use of a rich chromatic palette, using reds, violets And oranges which give his paintings an almost dramatic tension.
The house of Olana (1872) by the architect Calvert Vaux, property of Frederic Edwin Church.
Becoming famous in America for its colossal landscapes, Church strives to distinguish itself from other painters by diversifying its inspiration, often through the design of landscapes evoking exotic places. He made twice-long trips to South America, and stayed mainly in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. His first trip took place in 1853. At this point in his career, Church was influenced by the theories of the great thinker and Prussian geographer Alexander von Humboldt on earth, matter and space. Humboldt had thus challenged the artists to be able to represent the singular “physiognomy” of the Andes mountains. Church is going to do it, literally traveling in the footsteps of Humboldt, since he stayed in the old house where Humboldt had resided in Quito. When Church returned to South America for her second trip in 1857, Church had less noble views. The artist was then financed by the American businessman Cyrus Field who sought to use the fame of the painter to attract the attention of investors on his South American companies. The painting The Heart of the Andes, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is the second voyage. The canvas, which is more than a meter in height and nearly three in width, was unveiled in 1859 in New York before an astonished public. Church installed her in a specially lit room with curtains and palm fronds, and charged the entrance to the public. Everything must be used to create a sensational event. And it’s an immediate success. Church then sold the work for $ 10,000, which at the time was the highest price ever achieved by a painting by a living American painter. He is then nicknamed the “Michelangelo of the landscape. ”
In 1860, his financial ease enabled Church to buy a large farm at Greenport, near Hudson, and he married Isabel Carnes. His first two children died of diphtheria in March 1863, but they will have another child, Frederic junior, in 1865. In 1870 he started building a Persian-inspired house on a hill, Installed in this house in the summer of 1872, the first plans of which were signed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt, renowned for his monumental houses and who had also worked in France on the extension of the Louvre in 1854, but which Church will dismiss Of the project to entrust it to the English architect Calvert Vaux after a long journey from Church in Europe to the Near East during which, faithful to his habits, he brings back several drawings, some of which will serve as a basis for painted works.
Church was the product of the second generation of the Hudson River School and the pupil of Thomas Cole, the school’s founder The Hudson River School was established by the British Thomas Cole when he moved to America and started painting landscapes, mostly of mountains and other traditional American scenes Both Cole and Church were devout Protestants and the latter’s beliefs played a role in his paintings especially his early canvases Cole, along with his friend Asher Durand, started this school in New York; it was the first well-acknowledged American artistic movement The paintings were characterized by their focus on traditional American pastoral settings, especially the Catskill Mountains, and their romantic qualities This style attempted to capture the wild realism of an unsettled America that was quickly disappearing, and the feelings of discovery and appreciation for natural beauty His American frontier landscapes show the “expansionist and optimistic outlook of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century” Church did differ from Cole in the topics of his paintings: he preferred natural and often majestic scenes over Cole’s propensity towards allegory
Church, like most second generation Hudson River School painters, used extraordinary detail, romanticism, and luminism in his paintings Romanticism was prominent in Britain and France in the early 1800s as a counter-movement to the Enlightenment virtues of order and logic Artists of the Romantic period often depicted nature in idealized scenes that depicted the richness and beauty of nature, sometimes also with emphasis on the grand scale of nature
This tradition carries on in the works of Frederic Church, who idealizes an uninterrupted nature, highlighted by creating excruciatingly detailed art The emphasis on nature is encouraged by the low horizontal lines, and preponderance of sky to enhance the wilderness; humanity, if it is represented, is depicted as small in comparison with the greater natural reality The technical skill comes in the form of luminism, a Hudson River School innovation particularly present in Church’s works Luminism is also cited as encompassing several technical aspects, which can be seen in Church’s works One example is the attempt to “hide brushstrokes,” which makes the scene seem more realistic and lessen the artist’s presence in the work Most importantly is the emphasis on light (hence luminism) in these scenes The several sources of light create contrast in the pictures that highlights the beauty and detailed imagery in the painting
Church began his career by painting classic Hudson River School scenes of New York and New England, but by 1850, he had settled in New York Church’s method consisted of creating paintings in his studio (in the cold, barren months of the year) based on sketches (some in oil) created of views in the summer months In these earlier years of his career, Church’s style was reminiscent of that of his teacher, Thomas Cole, and epitomized the Hudson River School’s founding styles Church’s work was immediately divergent from Cole’s focus on ethereal, almost mythological, scenes, but his early work did resemble Cole’s tone Church focused on scenes composed of rich reds, purples, and oranges to give depth to his work and emphasize the richness and fantasy of the scenery
Church took two trips to South America, and stayed predominantly in Quito, Ecuador, the first in 1853 and the second in 1857 One trip was financed by businessman Cyrus West Field, who wished to use Church’s paintings to lure investors to his South American ventures Church was inspired by the Prussian polymath geographer Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos (about “the Earth, matter, and space”) and his exploration of the continent in the early 1800s; Humboldt had challenged artists to portray the “physiognomy” of the Andes After Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America was published in 1852, Church jumped at the chance to travel and study in his icon’s footsteps (literally, as he stayed in Humboldt’s old house) in Quito, Ecuador When Church returned in 1857 he added to his landscape paintings of the area After both trips, Church had produced four landscapes of Ecuador:The Andes of Ecuador (1855), Cayambe (1858), The Heart of the Andes (1859), and Cotopaxi (1862) It was the Heart of the Andes that won Church fame when it debuted in 1859 The painting pictures several elements of Quito’s nature combined into an idealistic portrait of a jungle scene Despite having clear perspective and foreshortening, Church keeps every detail (even those of the mountains in the back) in crystal clear detail In addition, The Heart of The Andes is also a documentation, a scientific study of every natural feature that exists in that area of the Andes Every species of plant and animal is readily identifiable; even climatic zonation by altitude is delineated precisely
In this way, Church pays a unique tribute to Humboldt (who inspired his journey) as well as maintains his Hudson River School roots “Therefore instead of the fiery crimsons and oranges of his emotional crepuscular scenes, the palette here is comparatively restrained by Church’s standards: quiet greens, blues, browns, ochres and subdued grayish purples of sky, stone, verdure and water in full, even daylight” It was in 1859 that Church finally showed The Heart of the Andes in New York City Church had set up the exhibit like a house, with the painting playing the part of a window looking out over the Andes He completed the look with Ecuadorian plants from his travels and a frame and curtains which the audience (sitting on benches) looked through to enhance the effect Church unveiled the painting to an astonished public in New York City in 1859 The painting’s frame had drawn curtains fitted to it, creating the illusion of a view out of a window The audience sat on benches to view the piece and Church strategically darkened the room, but spotlighted the landscape painting Church also brought plants from a past trip to South America to heighten the viewers’ experience The public were charged admission and provided with opera glasses to examine the painting’s details The work was an instant success Church eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist During the Civil War, Church was inspired to paint “Our Banner in the Sky”, from which a lithograph was made and sold to benefit the families of Union soldiers In 1863, he was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City exhibited The Heart of the Andes in its original frame in 1995-96, together with a number of the supporting studies that Church made on his epic Andean journey Americans soon began to consider Church the “Michelangelo of Landscape Art” and he became one of the most renowned American artists Part of Church’s appeal was the fact that he had resisted the American artist “norm” of the day by refusing to go to Europe, as most artists did to train, instead focusing his efforts and talents on South America This was in part due to Humboldt’s influence, but was also a conscious decision on Church’s part to gain notoriety In addition, one of Church’s most extraordinary accomplishments was his commercial success Church’s art was extremely lucrative, he was reported to be worth approximately half-a-million dollars at his death, about 125 million dollars today Americans were enamored with Church’s all-American appeal and brilliant body of work Church exhibited his art at the American Art Union, the Boston Art Club, and (most impressively for a young artist) the National Academy of Design He joined his contemporaries in the Hudson River School: Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, John F Kensett, and Jasper F Cropsey
Church died on April 7, 1900 in New York City He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut
Olana State Historic Site is now owned and operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Taconic Region and receives extensive support from The Olana Partnership, a private, non-profit organization