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Frederic Edwin Church

American Painter

Frederic Edwin Church Photo

Born: May 4, 1826 - Hartford, CT, USA

Died: April 7, 1900 - New York City, NY, USA

"Imagine this fairy-like Temple blazing like sunlight among those savage black rocks."

Summary of Frederic Edwin Church

Frederic Edwin Church's landscape paintings offer us the pious and the exotic, the natural and the artificial, in equal measure. He was a vital figure in the movement in American painting known as the Hudson River School, and in the development of Western landscape painting more generally, and his work epitomizes all the contradictions of the culture that birthed it. A technically ingenious draftsman, interested in the accurate rendering of flora, fauna, and atmospheric effects, he was also aware of the value of illusion, often building up his landscapes from preparatory sketches made at several different sites. His subject-matter ranged from New York State to the Arctic and the Andes. To each location he brought the same heady combination of religious awe, scientific inquisitiveness, and a fascination with the exotic.

Key Ideas

Frederic Edwin Church was one of the most gifted painters of light and air of the Romantic period. His work became renowned not only for its meticulous rendering of landscape, but for the equal attention it lavished on sunlight, moonlight, cloud, mist, and other intangible qualities of location. In this sense, his work is related to the subgenre of American Romantic landscape painting known as Luminism, though it lacks that style's emphasis on calm and stillness.
If Thomas Cole's paintings made the Hudson River Valley famous, Frederic Edwin Church made the painters of the Hudson River Valley famous for painting the world. Whereas Cole's travels were restricted largely to the United States, Church's artistic tours took him to exotic and remote locations, from the Arctic Circle to the Middle East. His oeuvre is synonymous with the confident, inquisitive, sometimes astonished gaze of the nineteenth century West upon the rest of the world, and pulsates with the energy of discovery.
As a member of the second generation of Hudson River School painters, Church's work enacts a movement away from the symbolic unity of the first-generation painters such as Cole - in which each element of the landscape has a coded allegorical value - towards a purer emphasis on the natural scene. This went hand in hand with a desire to document, taxonomize and understand the landscape at a scientific level.
Frederic Edwin Church Photo

Frederic Edwin Church was born into a mercantile family in Connecticut in 1826. Though his ancestors were amongst the Protestant founding fathers of the United States, his immediate heritage was rather more prosaic. His father and uncle made a living from manufacturing bonnets, and from other business ventures including milling and insurance. Nonetheless, Church's father was wealthy and well-connected, and when his son showed an early talent for art he arranged through his contact Daniel Wadsworth, a noted Connecticut collector, for Frederic to study under the painter Thomas Cole.

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