The dramatic and often spectacularly large paintings of 19th century American painter Frederic Edwin Church are rich with fascinating details and beautiful handling of his subjects.
In addition to painting his sweeping vistas in enough detail that you could easily take multiple sections of them as individual compositions, Church often placed small figures within a grand landscape to emphasize the scale as well as to provide a focal point of human interest.
The painting above, at the top, Pichincha, depicts a particular volcano in Ecuador, but was, like most of Church’s grand landscapes, made up of combined or invented views. These paintings were composed in his studio, working from location sketches made on his trips to Central and South America, often years later.
Church took liberties to combine and invent views, as well as inserting palm trees and other exotic vegetation not native to the area. Geographic accuracy was not his intention, but rather stunning the viewer with the exotic location, scale and detail in his images and his mastery of theatrical light and atmospheric perspective.
Pichincha is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so I’ve had the pleasure of viewing it in person on numerous occasions. While it is large, it’s not one of Church’s largest canvasses.
His largest paintings were sometimes displayed in theatrical settings, and people paid for admission to see them. A case in point is his remarkable painting Heart of the Andes, which I wrote about last year.
I’ve also seen some of his work up close on other occasions in other museums, and I’ll suggest that short of seeing his work in person, the next best way of viewing work as large and rich in detail as Church’s landscapes is in high resolution images, such as those presented on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (as in the case of Heart of the Andes).
However, for a trove of multiple high resolution zoomable images of Church gems in an interface that lets you get right down into the fascinating details, you can’t beat the Google Art Project.
As if their selection of spectacular large scale landscapes wasn’t enough, the GAP section on Church includes a selection of rarely seen location drawings and painted sketches from an extensive collection of his notebooks in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
So if you could use a little visual vacation to South America or Niagra Falls, here you go — but before you travel, I’ll issue my customary Time Sink Warning.
[Suggestion courtesy of Tim Matteson]