Movement: Hudson River School
Frederic Edwin Church’s Famous Artworks
“Heart of the Andes,” 1859
“Aurora Borealis,” 1865
“Passing Shower in the Tropics,” 1872
“Aegean Sea,” 1877
Frederic Edwin Church was an American painter from the Hudson River School of landscape painting. His larger-than-life landscapes often portrayed natural phenomena in full splendor. A highly scientific painter, he rendered both geological and botanical details in faithful detail.
Frederic Edwin Church’s Early Life
Frederic Edwin Church was born in Hartford in Connecticut in April 1826. Church’s father, Joseph Church, was a jeweler and banker in the city of Hartford and the Church family was quite wealthy. As Joseph Church moved in high society, he was able to persuade Daniel Wadsworth, a respected art collector to convince the esteemed landscape painter Thomas Cole to take on Church as his student.
From 1844 to 1846, Church worked with Cole in his studio, “Catskill,” in New York. After his apprenticeship with Cole, he set up his own studio in New York and soon garnered a good reputation. In 1857, however, he soared to international fame by mesmerizing audiences in America and Britain with his painting “Niagara.”
Frederic Edwin Church in South America and the Atlantic
The church came under the spell of distinguished naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt in the 1840s. Von Humboldt had written extensively on the New World, and encouraged people of a creative bent of mind to visit South America. Encouraged by this, Church made his first expedition south to Colombia in 1853, and his second to Ecuador in 1857. Church executed paintings based on his sketches made during his journeys in South America, becoming very successful and also exhibited them at several museums
and galleries. His work “The Heart of the Andes,” done in 1859, an immensely popular piece from his South American series, was exhibited at seven American cities and Britain.
In 1859, Church, along with Thomas Cole’s biographer, embarked on a trip to Greenland and the Atlantic to sketch icebergs. In 1861, just as the Civil War was breaking out, Church exhibited his series “Icebergs: The North.”
Frederic Edwin Church’s Personal Life
In 1860, Church married Isabel Carnes and they set up home in Hudson, New York. They had two children together, who they tragically lost to diphtheria only one week apart in 1865. This was a traumatic time for both Church and Carnes and to drown their sorrow, both husband and wife left for Jamaica for several months. It was at this time that Church did some of the most intense sketchings during his life, and completed many powerful and vivid oil studies.
In 1867, Church along with his new-born child, his wife, and mother-in-law set out for an excursion to the Holy Land, tracing Christ’s journey through Palestine. The family culminated their journey in Rome
. On his own, Church traveled to Petra in Jordan and Athens in Greece. These travels produced marvelous landscapes such as the “The Parthenon” in 1871. On their return to New York, Church built a mansion on his hilltop property in Hudson (between 1870 and 1872), where he and his wife brought up their four children. At this time, he also became a founder and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Frederic Edwin Church’s Death and Legacy
Church, in his older years, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which severely affected his ability to paint. By and large, like the other painters of the Hudson River School, he also suffered from the fading attention of patrons and the public. By the time of his death in April 1900, Church had almost been completely forgotten.
In 1900, a retrospective of his work was held by the Metropolitan Museum that revived his reputation and work. His work kept growing more popular post the 1960s. In 1964, Church's historic mansion and its grounds in Olana, New York, were declared a historic site. You can buy Frederic Edwin Church’s artworks online.
Frederic Edwin Church’s Major Exhibitions
1995 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2013 - National Gallery, London
Frederic Edwin Church’s Museums/Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Currier Art Gallery, New Hampshire
Olana State Historic Site, Hudson
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
“Frederic Edwin Church” by Franklin Kelly
“Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church” by Kevin J. Avery
“Maine Sublime: Frederic Edwin Church’s Landscapes” by John Wilmerding
“Frederic Edwin Church: The Art and Science of Detail” by Jennifer Raab
“In Search of the Promised Land: Paintings by Frederic Edwin Church” by Gerald L. Carr
“Frederic Church” by John K. Howat