Cultured Wednesday: Frederic Edwin Church

You really cannot portray the Hudson River School painters and leave out this gentleman, can you now?  So today, we shall have a closer look at Frederic Edwin Church, who was a central figure in the Hudson River School and is best known for painting large landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and sunsets, as well as his rather interesting estate Olana which I won’t mention a whole lot because it would take a separate post to do it justice.  As with all the Hudson River School painters, Church put an emphasis on realistic detail, dramatic light, and panoramic views, which is just what we like.

Before we continue with some biographic notes on Church, we want to mention a somewhat personal relation with this particular painter because in a way, our families are connected:  One of our 12th great-grandfathers, William Andrews by name, was among the founders of Hartford, CT.  He came with Thomas Hooker, who led the original journey through the wilderness from Massachusetts to what would later become Hartford, and so did Richard Church, one of Frederic Edwin Church’s direct ancestors.  It stands to reason, therefore, that we put his depiction of said journey first:

Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford in 1636. 1846

Frederic Edwin Church was born almost 200 years after that journey on May 4, 1826 in Hartford, CT, into a wealthy family.  Early on he was introduced to Thomas Cole and became his student, travelling a lot during that time.  Thomas Cole praised him for having “the finest eye for drawing in the world”.  By the mid-19th century, Church had settled in New York, where he raised his family before they all moved to Greenport, NY, into what is today the Olana State Historic Site, an eclectic villa which overlooks parkland and a working farm designed by the artist.  Like his wife barely a year before him, he died in New York City on April 7, 1900, and they are both buried in the family plot at Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, CT.

Here is another one of Church’s New England scenes.  It’s not an actual landscape he depicts in it, but what is called a “composite landscape” because he used sketches from various locations for this one.

New England Scenery 1851
New England Scenery (1851)

Here is one more from the northern parts of the country:

Niagara, 1857
Niagara (1857)

As you can probably tell already, Church liked majestic nature, the mountains, the waterfalls, and also icebergs.  The broken mast at the bottom of the painting should not be overlooked as it highlights man’s frailty in the face of nature’s grandeur.

Church's The Icebergs 1861
The Icebergs (1861)

Church had a special liking for skies.  Here is a particularly impressive example of how he combined minute details (the foliage) with the grandeur of the vast wilderness the pioneers faced on their journey ever further west (the perspective focusing on the sunset behind the mountain range), and the big skies they would have witnessed (self-evident).

Twilight in the Wilderness (1860)

Church’s paintings, they say, were more confident and on a grander scale than those of his contemporaries.  They “uniquely captured the spirit of an optimistic American people” who associated the landscape of the New World with their own Promised Land in the west.  I think that sums it up pretty nicely.

Here once more the featured image in all its beauty.

Cross in the Wilderness (1857)

7 Replies to “Cultured Wednesday: Frederic Edwin Church”

    1. Oh yes, a lot of effort. It took effort to settle the wilderness of this continent, too, so I guess the mentality of the pioneers is well expressed in paintings that take time and effort.

      Liked by 1 person

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