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Frederic Edwin Church

 (1826 - 1900)
Frederic Edwin Church was active/lived in New York, Connecticut / Mexico.  Frederic Church is known for majestic landscape and arctic marine scene painting.

Frederic Edwin Church

    CHERCH    click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Frederic Church became a leading figure in the Hudson River School* of painters, and in the 1850s and 60s was one of America's most famous painters.  The paintings for which he became known were landscapes conveying a serene sense of light and space, showing nature in its pure state without the presence of human beings.

His career rose very fast, taking off when he was in his early twenties, but by the time he was forty, public taste had changed, and this circumstance combined with his own ill health caused his reputation to fall considerably.

He came from a wealthy family and received his first art instruction from Benjamin Coe.  His primary master was Thomas Cole with whom he lived and painted in Catskill, New York from 1844 to 1848.  Church was Cole's first and only student. However, his own style differed from Cole's in that it was not laden with romanticism and allegory because he believed that an artist should capture the realities of nature and focus on the relationship between light and form.

By age 19, he made his debut at the National Academy of Design* and was elected an Associate Member.  He also set up a studio in New York City, but during this period the Hudson River Valley came to have deep personal meaning, and he determined to make his home there.  From 1864 into the 1890s, he frequently worked from his studio at the topmost part of his family farm near Hudson at Bee Craft Mountain from where he had a broad panoramic view that he often painted.

But his subject matter went far beyond the Hudson River and Niagara Falls.  He found landscapes in South America where he first traveled in 1853, staying for seven months, and the resulting paintings were highly acclaimed at the National Academy. He also traveled to the Arctic, the Tropics, and in 1867 to Europe and North Africa.

By 1877, severe rheumatism crippled his right hand, and he attempted to paint with his left hand, but his career was essentially curtailed.  The last twenty years of his life, seemingly forgotten as an artist, he spent at Olana, his Moorish-style palace on the Hudson River and also traveled to Mexico and Maine where he painted Mount Katahdin.

He died in 1900 in New York City.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III
Frederic Edwin Church (May 4, 1826 - April 7, 1900) was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut.  He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters.  While committed to the natural sciences, he was "always concerned with including a spiritual dimension in his works".[1]

The family wealth came from Church's father, Joseph Church, a silversmith and watchmaker in Hartford, Connecticut (Joseph subsequently also became an official and a director of The Aetna Life Insurance Company).  Joseph, in turn, was the son of Samuel Church, who founded the first paper mill in Lee, Massachusetts in the Berkshires, and this allowed him (Frederic) to pursue his interest in art from a very early age.  At eighteen years of age, Church became the pupil of Thomas Cole in Catskill, New York after Daniel Wadsworth, a family neighbor and founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum, introduced the two.  In May 1848, Church was elected as the youngest Associate of the National Academy of Design and was promoted to Academician the following year.  Soon after, he sold his first major work to Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum.

Church settled in New York where he taught his first pupil, William James Stillman. From the spring to autumn each year Church would travel, often by foot, sketching. He returned each winter to paint and to sell his work.

In 1853 and 1857, Church traveled in South America.  One trip was financed by businessman Cyrus West Field, who wished to use Church's paintings to lure investors to his South American ventures.  Church was inspired by the Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos and his exploration of the continent; Humboldt had challenged artists to portray the "physiognomy" of the Andes.[1]
Two years after returning to America, Church painted The Heart of the Andes (1859), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Tenth Street Studio in New York City.  It is more than five feet high and nearly ten feet in length (167.9 × 302.9 cm). Church unveiled the painting to an astonished public in New York City in 1859.  The painting's frame had drawn curtains fitted to it, creating the illusion of a view out a window. The audience sat on benches to view the piece and Church strategically darkened the room, but spotlighted the landscape painting.  Church also brought plants from a past trip to South America to heighten the viewers' experience.  The public were charged admission and provided with opera glasses to examine the painting's details. The work was an instant success. Church eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.

Church showed his paintings at the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design, the American Art Union, and at the Boston Art Club, alongside Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, John F. Kensett, and Jasper F. Cropsey. Critics and collectors appreciated the new art of landscape on display, and its progenitors came be to called the Hudson River School.

In 1860 Church bought a farm in Hudson, New York and married Isabel Carnes. Both Church's first son and daughter died in March, 1865 of diphtheria, but he and his wife started a new family with the birth of Frederic Joseph in 1866. When he and his wife had a family of four children, they began to travel together. In 1867 they visited Europe and the Middle East, allowing Church to return to painting larger works.

Before leaving on that trip, Church purchased the eighteen acres (73,000 m²) on the hilltop above his Hudson farm—land he had long wanted because of its magnificent views of the Hudson River and the Catskills. In 1870 he began the construction of a Persian-inspired mansion on the hilltop and the family moved into the home in the summer of 1872. Richard Morris Hunt was the architect for Cosy Cottage at Olana, and was consulted early on in the plans for the mansion, but after the Church's trip to Europe and what is now Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, the English architect Calvert Vaux was hired to complete the project. Church was deeply involved in the process, even completing his own architectural sketches for its design. This highly personal and eclectic castle incorporated many of the design ideas that he had acquired during his travels.

Illness affected Church's output.  Although he was enormously successful as an artist by 1876 Church was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis which greatly reduced his ability to paint. He eventually painted with his left hand and continued to produce his work although on a much slower pace.  He devoted much of his energies during the final 20 years of his life to his house at Olana. Church died on April 7, 1900. He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut.


Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
For his spectacular and panoramic paintings of the wilderness of North and South America, Frederic Edwin Church was a dominant figure in the second generation of the Hudson River School. His canvases celebrated the drama of the American frontier and expressed the expansionist and optimistic outlook of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Church was the son of a wealthy businessman. He received his early art training from local painters Benjamin Hutchins Coe and Alexander Hamilton Emmons. In 1844, with the help of the art patron Daniel Wadsworth, he became the first pupil of the famous Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole. While studying at Cole's studio in Catskill, New York, Church absorbed his teacher's methods of sketching and became a proponent of his epic style of painting. Upon completing two years of training, Church moved to New York, where he established a studio in the Art-Union building.

Church was successful in New York. In 1848, he became one of the youngest artists to be elected to the status of academician at the National Academy of Design, and he was soon training pupils of his own, including Jervis McEntee and William James Stillman. In the subsequent period, Church emulated Cole's art, painting large-scale landscapes of the Hudson River Valley and of New England. Influenced by the writings of English theorist John Ruskin, he began to paint in a more precise manner, focusing on specific effects of weather and atmosphere. He was also inspired by the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist-explorer.

Church gradually began to take a more scientific approach to nature, using sketches he had created in the outdoors in the preparation of his canvases. In 1853, he became the first American artist to visit South America. Accompanying Cyrus Field, who later gained renown for his participation in the transatlantic cable project, Church followed Humboldt's 1802 route from Colombia to Ecuador. Along the way, Church drew from nature, producing the drawings that became the basis for important canvases depicting exotic subjects such as "The Cordilleras: Sunrise" (1855; Private Collection).

When his works received high praise, Church set off on a second expedition in 1857. On this sojourn, he traveled to Ecuador with the landscape painter Louis Remy Mignot. It was on this trip that he was able to concentrate on the scenery of the Andes, and he filled diaries and sketchbooks with records of the vegetation and the countryside.

Characterized by vast vistas and atmospheric detail, the works that resulted from this sojourn demonstrate Church's unique approach. Among the great triumphs of the artist's career was "Heart of the Andes" (1859; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which Church captured the essence of the tropics. Another significant product of this period in the artist's career was "Niagara" (1857; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), which established Church as the leading interpreter of the American spirit.

During the 1860s, Church continued to travel, seeking subject matter for his paintings. He continued to produce visions of the tropics such as "Twilight in the Wilderness" (1860; Cleveland Museum of Art) and "Cotopaxi" (1862; The Detroit Institute of Arts) until 1867, when he took a year and a half trip to Europe and the Middle East.

He first spent six months in London and Paris, and then continued on to Alexandria, Beirut, Constantinople, Baalbeck, Petra, and Jerusalem. Due to his fascination with ancient civilizations, he also visited Naples, Paestum, and Greece. On his return, he stopped in London, in order to study the works of Turner. The results of this trip were numerous oil sketches and drawings that he used for a series of paintings including "The Parthenon" (1871; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and "Jerusalem" from the Mount of Olives (1870; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri).

By 1880, Church's painting activity was curtailed due to ill health, and in 1883, rheumatism crippled his right arm and hand. In 1890, he settled at Olana, his grand villa near Hudson, New York, which had been designed for him in the Persian and Moorish styles by the architect Calvert Vaux in 1870. The house, which is preserved as a museum today, reflected Church's eclectic interests and his travels, including exotic furnishings and decorative objects. The artist adorned the walls with works by the Old Masters, especially landscapes by Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa. Although he spent the winters of his last years in Mexico, Church spent most of the final phase of his life at Olana. He died in New York City.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Santa Monica
Frederic Church was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1826, to a wealthy family who encouraged his artistic interests. Church's primary art instruction was with the Hudson River School master Thomas Cole, with whom he spent four years. Church was Cole's first and last student.

Church's works were dramatic Hudson River-style paintings of the unspoiled landscape, often heroic and "lit from within" suggesting the presence of a higher power. Church began a successful exhibition history by showing at the National Academy of Design at the age of 19.

Church established a home and studio overlooking the Hudson River, a frequent source of inspiration. He was also an avid traveler, having taken his vision to South America. His epic tropical visions from this trip were highly acclaimed upon his return to New York.

Church's career was cut short when rheumatism crippled his right hand in 1877. He died in New York in 1900.

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About  Frederic Edwin Church

Born:  1826 - Hartford, Connecticut
Died:   1900 - New York City
Known for:  majestic landscape and arctic marine scene painting

Essays referring to
Frederic Edwin Church

Hudson River School Painters
Painted in Latin America