FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH (1826-1900)

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1826, Frederic Church was the leading figure of the second generation of the Hudson River School of painters, and by the 1850's and 60's he was America's most famous painter. There was a time when hundreds, maybe even thousands in the mid 1850's would line up around the block of Williams Stevens & Williams, his New York dealer, and pay 50 cents just to gaze at a single canvas. The paintings for which he became known were dramatic landscapes conveying a sense of the sublime, extraordinary moments in nature, when the interplay of light and space come together in a transcendent fashion without the guiding hand of man.  His career rise was meteor like, taking off  in his early twenties, but by the time he was forty (post Civil War), public taste changed away from the native school instead towards European art, and these aesthetic shifts in taste combined with his own health issues of rheumatoid arthritis caused his reputation to decline, especially when his arthritis flared in the winter months which would have been when the artists would meet with their patrons, past and prospective. Fortunately for Church he came from a wealthy family (his father was a founder/partner of an insurance company that eventually became Aetna Insurance) and received his first art instruction from Benjamin Coe. After Hartford neighbor Daniel Wadsworth noticed his precocious talents, Wadsworth wrote to Cole about the young artist and encouraged Cole to take Church on as a pupil. The four years spent with Cole formed a foundation that would last the rest of Church's professional career, as he lived with Cole and painted with him in Catskill, New York from 1844 to 1848.  Church was Cole's first and foremost student. However, his own style differed from Cole's in that it was not laden with romanticism and allegory because he believed that an artist should capture the realities of nature and focus on the relationship between light and form. On canvas this came down to Cole having an earlier style, a looser brushstroke, laden with emotion while Church was colder, more detached, with a much tighter control over the smaller brush.

By age 18, he made his debut at the National Academy of Design with the painting, "Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness" (1846, col. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT) and was elected an Associate Member.  Around 1848-1849, about the time he exhibited the painting, "Haying near West Rock" (1849, col. New Britain Museum of Art, CT),  he became one of the youngest artists to be elected to the status of academician at the National Academy of Design, and he was soon training pupils of his own, including Jervis McEntee and William James Stillman. In the subsequent period, Church emulated Cole’s formula, painting large-scale landscapes of the Hudson River Valley, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Virginia. Possibly influenced by the writings of English theorist John Ruskin (Church used some of the same frame designs as the English Pre-Raphaelites), he strove to paint in a more precise manner, focusing on specific effects of weather and atmosphere, with a particular emphasis on clouds. Church gradually began to take a more scientific approach to nature, using sketches he had created in the outdoors in the preparation of his canvases. He was also inspired by the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist-explorer, and in 1853, he became the first American artist to visit equatorial South America. Accompanying Cyrus Field, who later gained renown for his participation in the transatlantic cable project, Church followed Humboldt’s 1802 route from Colombia to Ecuador. Along the way, Church drew from nature, producing the drawings that became the basis for important canvases depicting exotic subjects such as "The Cordilleras: Sunrise" (1855; Private Collection).

When his works received high praise, Church set off on a second expedition in 1857. On this sojourn, he traveled to Ecuador with the landscape painter Louis Remy Mignot. It was on this trip that he was able to concentrate on the scenery of the Andes, and he filled diaries and sketchbooks with records of the vegetation and the countryside. Characterized by vast vistas and atmospheric detail, the works that resulted from this sojourn demonstrate Church’s unique approach. Among the great triumphs of the artist’s career was "Heart of the Andes" (1859; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which Church captured the essence of the tropics.

Another significant product of this period in the artist’s career was "Niagara" (1857; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), which established Church as the leading interpreter of the American spirit. He also set up a studio in New York City, but during this period the Hudson River Valley came to have deep personal meaning, and he determined to make his home there. In New York City, his artistic home was the Tenth Street Studio (his famous canvas "Twilight in the Wilderness" (1860, col. Cleveland Museum of Art, OH) is based upon "Twilight, a Sketch" (1858) which he painted from the Tenth Street Studio looking west over Hoboken at sunset), while out in the country it was his home, a work in progress just south of Hudson, NY.  From 1864 into the 1890s, he frequently worked from his studio at the topmost part of his family farm near Hudson at Bee Craft Mountain from where he had a broad panoramic view that he often painted. His subject matter went far beyond the New York, New England, and South America, as he also traveled to the Arctic where he made sketches that eventually would culminate in his largest canvas ever known, "Icebergs of the North" (1861, col. Dallas Museum, TX). Then in 1867 he went to Europe and North Africa. By 1877, severe rheumatism crippled his right hand, occasionally he attempted to paint with his left hand, but his career was essentially hobbled except in the warmest of weather.  The last twenty years of his life, seemingly forgotten as an artist, he spent designing and redesigning various aspects of his home, Olana, his Moorish-style palace on the Hudson River and also traveled to Mexico (in the winter) and Maine (in the summer) where he painted the Mount Katahdin region. He died in 1900 in New York City.

While his larger works can be seen in various museums around the country, two museums have the bulk of his work, one is Olana, the State Historic Site near Hudson, NY, the home of the artist until his death, then in turn the home of his daughter in law until 1962 when a consortium of private fundraisers and public monies were spent to save the building, land and collection intact and undivided. They have upwards of 700 examples by the artist. The other museum with great depth of works by the artist is the Cooper Hewitt Museum, at 92nd and Fifth in New York City. According to the lecturers at Olana sometime around 1916, curators from that museum visited Frederic's son Louis at Olana, and expressed interest in his father's work. Louis said that was great, they were welcome to take the sketches in the attic, but he wanted to keep the paintings on the walls and downstairs. It is estimated that the Cooper Hewitt Museum has somewhere around 2,000 painted sketches by Frederic Edwin Church, and upon occasion they have been known to take them out of storage and share them with the museum going public.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

 

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900)

A Coast Line in Jamaica, West Indies  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
A Country Home  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Above the Clouds at Sunrise  Frederic Edwin Church 1849
Al Ayn (aka The Fountain)  Frederic Edwin Church 1882
Aurora Borealis  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Aurora Borealis, Mt. Desert Island, from Bar Harbor, Maine  Frederic Edwin Church 1860
Autumn  Frederic Edwin Church 1875
Autumn Landscape, Vermont  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1865
Autumn Shower  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
Autumn in North America  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1856
Autumn on the Hudson  Frederic Edwin Church 1853
Beacon, off Mount Desert Island  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
Broken Column, the Parthenon, Athens  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
Broken Columns, View from the Parthenon, Athens  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
Camp Fire in the Maine Wilderness  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1851-1859
Cayambe  Frederic Edwin Church 1858
Chimborazo  Frederic Edwin Church 1864
Christian on the Borders of the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," Pilgrim's Progress  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
Clouds over Olana  Frederic Edwin Church 1872
Cloudy Skies, Sunset, Jamaica  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Coast Scene  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Coast Scene, Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1863
Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church 1855
Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1855
Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church 1853
Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church 1855
Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church 1862
Cross in the Wilderness  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
El Khasne, Petra  Frederic Edwin Church 1874
El Rio de Luz (aka The River of Light)  Frederic Edwin Church 1877
Evening in the Tropics  Frederic Edwin Church 1881
Figures in a New England Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Figures in an Ecuadorian Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1872
Fog off Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1850
Fog off Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1850
Frederic Edwin Church  Frederic Edwin Church 1864
Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Great Basin, Mount Katahdin, ,Maine  Frederic Edwin Church 1875-1880
Hinter Schonau and Reiteralp Mountains, Bavaria  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Home by the Lake  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Home of the Pioneer  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636  Frederic Edwin Church 1846
Horseshoe Falls  Frederic Edwin Church 1856-1857
Hudson Valley, Near Olana, New York  Frederic Edwin Church 1869-1870
Iceberg Fantasy  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1859
Iceberg, Newfoundland  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset (aka Study for The Icebergs)  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1860
Icebergs at Midnight, Labrador  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
Icebergs, Twillingate, Newfoundland  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
Interior of the Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek, Syria  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Ira Mountain, Vermont  Frederic Edwin Church 1849-1850
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives  Frederic Edwin Church 1870
July Sunset, Berkshire County, Massachusetts  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
Konigsee, Bavaria  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
La Magdalena (aka Scene on the Magdalena)  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Lake Scene (aka Landscape in the Adirondacks)  Frederic Edwin Church 1878
Lake Scene in Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
Landscape in Greece  Frederic Edwin Church 1873
Landscape in the Adirondacks  Frederic Edwin Church Not listed
Landscape with Waterfall  Frederic Edwin Church 1858
Moonrise (aka The Rising Moon)  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Moonrise  Frederic Edwin Church 1889
Morning, Looking East over the Husdon Valley from Catskill Mountains  Frederic Edwin Church 1848
Moses Viewing the Promised Land  Frederic Edwin Church 1846
Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador, Shown from Riiobamba  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
Mount Katahdin  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1856
Mount Katahdin  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1858-1860
Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp  Frederic Edwin Church 1895
Mount Ktaadn (aka Mount Katahdin)  Frederic Edwin Church 1853
Mount Lebanon  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Mountain Landscape with River, Near Philadelphia  Frederic Edwin Church Not listed
Mountain Stream, Yemen VAlley, Palestine  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
New England Landscape (aka Evening after a Storm)  Frederic Edwin Church 1849
New England Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1849
New England Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
New England Landscape with Ruined Chimney  Frederic Edwin Church 1846
New England Scenery  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
New England Scenery  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
Newport Mountain, Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
Niagara Falls  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
Niagara Falls and Terrapin Tower  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
Niagara Falls from Goat Island, Winter  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
Niagara Falls from the American Side  Frederic Edwin Church 1867
North Lake  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
North Peristyle, Parthenon, Athens  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
Off Iceberg, Newfoundland  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
On Otter Creek  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1849-1850
Otter Creek, Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1850
Our Banner in the Sky  Frederic Edwin Church 1861
Our Banner in the Sky  Frederic Edwin Church 1863
Palm Trees and Housetops, Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
Palm Trees, West Indies  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Parthenon, Athens, from the Northwest (Illuminated Night View)  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
Plant Study, Jamaica, West Indies  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Rain Forest, Jamaica, West Indies  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Rainy Season in the Tropics  Frederic Edwin Church 1866
Red Hills near Kingston, Jamaica  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Rooftops at Sunset, Rome, Italy  Frederic Edwin Church 1868-1869
Rough Surf, Mount Desert Island  Frederic Edwin Church 1850
Ruins at Baalbek  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Salzburg Castle  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1868-1869
Salzburg, Austria, View of the Castle  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Scene among the Andes  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Scene on the Catskill Creek, New York  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
Scene on the Magdalena  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Scene on the Magdalena  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Self portrait  Frederic Edwin Church Not listed
South American Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
South American Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
South American Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
South American Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1873
South American Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1856-1857
Southwest Facade, Olana  Frederic Edwin Church 1870
Storm in the Mountains  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Storm in the Mountains  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
Study for "The Heart of the Andes"  Frederic Edwin Church 1858
Study for "The Icebergs"  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
Study for "Under Niagara"  Frederic Edwin Church 1858
Study of Zoomorphic Rock, Petra  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
Sunrise (aka The Rising Sun)  Frederic Edwin Church 1862
Sunrise in Syria  Frederic Edwin Church 1874
Sunset  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
Sunset in Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Sunset, Bar Harbor  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Sunset, Jamaica (study for "The After Glow"  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Syria by the Sea  Frederic Edwin Church 1873
Tamaca Palms  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Tamaca Palms  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
Tequendama Falls, near Bogota, New Granada  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
The Aegean Sea  Frederic Edwin Church 1877
The Andes of Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1876
The Andes of Ecuador  Frederic Edwin Church 1855
The Arabian Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1870
The Charter Oak  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
The Charter Oak at Hartford  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1846
The Cordilleras: Sunrise  Frederic Edwin Church 1854
The Evening Star  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
The Falls of Tequendama, Near Bogota, New Granada  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
The Great Fall, Niagara  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
The Heart of the Andes  Frederic Edwin Church 1859
The Hudson Valley in Winter rom Olana  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1871-1872
The Iceberg  Frederic Edwin Church 1891
The Icebergs  Frederic Edwin Church 1861
The Magdalena River, Equador  Frederic Edwin Church Not listed
The Mediterranean Sea  Frederic Edwin Church 1882
The Monastery of San Pedro  Frederic Edwin Church 1879
The Natural Bridge, Virginia  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
The Old Boat (aka The Abandoned Skiff)  Frederic Edwin Church 1850
The Parthenon  Frederic Edwin Church 1871
The Parthenon from the Southeast  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
The Ruins at Sunion, Greece  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1869
The Star in the East  Frederic Edwin Church 1860
The Vale of St. Thomas, Jamaica  Frederic Edwin Church 1867
The Wreck  Frederic Edwin Church 1852
Thunder Clouds, Jamaica  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
To the Memory of Cole  Frederic Edwin Church 1848
Tropical Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1873
Tropical Landscape  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
Tropical Scenery (aka South American Landscape)  Frederic Edwin Church 1873
Twilight  Frederic Edwin Church 1856
Twilight Mount Desert Island, Maine  Frederic Edwin Church 1865
Twilight among the Mountains  Frederic Edwin Church 1845
Twilight in the Wilderness  Frederic Edwin Church 1860
Twilight, 'Short arbiter 'twixt day and night'  Frederic Edwin Church 1850
Twilight, a Sketch  Frederic Edwin Church 1858
View Towards Damascus, Syria  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
View from Olana in the Snow  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1870-1873
View in Pittsford, Vt.  Frederic Edwin Church 1848
View near Stockbridge, Mass.  Frederic Edwin Church 1847
View of Cotopaxi  Frederic Edwin Church 1857
View of Ed Deir, Petra, Jordan  Frederic Edwin Church 1868
View of Mount Katahdin  Frederic Edwin Church 1878
View of Newport Mountain, Mount Desert  Frederic Edwin Church 1851
View of the Acropolis, Athens  Frederic Edwin Church 1869
West Rock, New Haven  Frederic Edwin Church 1849
Winter Scene, Olana  Frederic Edwin Church 1870
Winter on the Hudson River Near Catskill, New York  Frederic Edwin Church circa 1868

Art sites also by Alexander Boyle of Hamilton Auction Galleries:

1. Guide to where the Hudson River School Painted

2. BrightLights, Safe Harbors, Painted Images of American Lighthouses

3. First Review of Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Nov. 22, 1825

4. Thomas Cole in the Upper Schoharie watershed of the Catskills

5. The Estate Sale Catalog of John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872)

6. Biography of Frederic E. Church (1826-1900)

7. Master-list of Herman Herzog (1832-1932)

8. Winslow Homer (1836-1910) at Houghton Farm, Mountainville, NY

9. John F. Peto (1854-1907), The Studio in Island Heights, NJ

10. Biography of Eugene Francis Savage (1883-1978)

11. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) rediscovery   

12. Abstract Expressionist Joseph Grippi (1924-2003)   

13. Alvin Loving (1935-2005)

14. The Outside Art of Nobihoru Yamauchi

E-Mail Alex questions about these artists or any fine art work in general