From "The Heart of the Andes" - the American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church

4 May 1826, the American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church was born in  Hartford, Connecticut.

“… it is not busy but solemn and wildly fanciful, like Church's painting.“ (John Ashbery)

Frederic Edwin Church: "Cotopaxi" (1855)

During mid-19th century George Berkeley’s winged words “Westward the course of empire takes its way“, from his 1720s poem “On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America“ had long taken root and flourished as expression of the Manifest Destiny of American settlers to spread throughout the continent. Belief in expansion and progress certainly played a major role in the mindscape of many and found expression in the emerging fine arts in the young United States, but it was pure awe of the beauties of nature that brought the painters of the Hudson River School out of the cities of the East Coast to capture the wonders of the Hudson Valley, the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains and than the rest of the newly explored lands. Claude Lorrain and John Constable, along with the imaginations and ideas of the Romantic Movement, acted as models for the first generation of Hudson River School artists, with Thomas Cole being the most notable among them and his best student, Frederic Church, was to become the central figure of American landscape painters of the century.

Frederic Edwin Church: "El Río de Luz" (The River of Light, 1877)

100 years later, art historians baptised the characteristically sensational approach of depicting light in breathtaking landscapes as “luminism” moving Church’s and others’ style near Impressionism, the only commonality, since the artists of the Hudson River School applied rather ideas of Realism on their landscape art, painting highly detailed renderings of what they saw with a choice of subjects that was clearly Romantic. Beyond that, Church usually placed a few markers into his compositions, crosses or Union flags, to voice his own persuasions and relate nature with belief. Subtle, but noticeable, to ease interpretation for less well educated beholders and elate and confirm them in their own religious and patriotic sensitivities. However, with his great skill and attention to detail as well as arranging a total composition and considerable imagination, Church stands out as one of the great landscape painters of the 19th century.

Frederic Edwin Church: "The Heart of the Andes" (1859)

Depicted above is Frederic Church’s “The Heart of the Andes” from 1859, painted after his journey to South America and first exhibited in New York in a remarkable staging for a painting. Draped with curtains in an otherwise darkened room, light fell only on the large canvas (170 x 300cm) to give the impression of looking out of a window. The audience sat on benches and opera glasses were handed out to study the details – a smashing success, 12.000 visitors came and saw the show during the first three weeks. After a tour through several other cities in the US and finally London, “The Heart of the Andes” was finally sold for $ 10,000, the highest price paid for an American painting during the 19th century.

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