American landscape painter Frederic Church was one of the most celebrated painters to emerge from the Hudson River School style of painting in the19th Century. His elaborate and exotic images of volcanoes, icebergs, Niagara Falls, and the tropical forests of South America depicted the scenic wonders of nature and became an inspiration for many contemporary artists.
Frederic Edwin Church was born May 4, 1826, in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of a wealthy and prominent businessman. At eighteen years of age, he was the first formal pupil to be accepted to study under renowned Thomas Cole. Cole recognized the singularity of American wilderness, and together they created landscapes that boasted natural power and beauty. At the age of 19, Church began a successful history of exhibitions by showing at the National Academy of Design, where he was later elected as a member in 1849.
The writings of German naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt (who believed that landscape art revealed a divine order that was overshadowed by the complexities of the natural world), fueled a desire in Church to retrace Humboldt’s travels through the northern Andes where he sketched rivers, waterfalls, and volcanoes. ‘Heart of the Andes’ (1858), his largest tropical scene, sold for $10,000; at that time, it was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.
In 1859, Frederic Church boarded a chartered schooner and set out on a trip to sketch icebergs in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. He used these sketches to create ‘The Icebergs’ (1861), another of his grand scale paintings.
Frederic Church met his future wife Isabel Carnes at an exhibition that featured one of his best known works, ‘The Andes of Ecuador’. In June of 1860, they married, and after having two children, settled down on a farm in Hudson, New York. The couple faced a great loss when both their young children died of diphtheria in March 1863. Two years later, Frederic junior was born and the couple went on to have three more children. They expanded their property during this time with the purchase of eighteen more acres of land that offered a magnificent view of the Hudson River, the Catskills and mountains of New England. In the 1860s and early 1870s, Church began to paint the sunlit landscapes of America, the icebergs of the far North, and the coast of Maine.
In 1867, Frederic Church and his family traveled to Europe and the Middle East, an adventure that inspired some of the artist’s larger works. Upon his return, he began construction on his new home, the ‘Olana’, a derivative from the Arabic language meaning ‘Our place on high’. This dwelling reflected his fascination with Middle East designs.
With age, the artist suffered from rheumatism which eventually crippled his right hand in the year 1877. Frederic Church died in New York on April 7th, 1900, and Olana, became a New York State historic site open to the public. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Hudson River Valley.