Coast of Grand Manan Island, August or September 1851Oil and graphite of paperboard 30.8 x 40.7 cm © Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Louis P. Church
The Scottish National Gallery’s summer exhibition, Through American Eyes, has just opened, focusing on the work of Frederic Edwin Church. Here, Jordan Ogg introduces the artist.
One of the greatest American painters of the nineteenth century, Church (1826–1900) is particularly renowned for his spectacular landscapes. His fascination for stirring subjects that celebrate the beauty and power of nature took the painter to places as distant as the Arctic Circle, Ecuador, Jordan, Jamaica and Bavaria.
Church became famous as a member of the Hudson River School, which founded the grand tradition of American landscape painting. He was also at the forefront of the great age of plein-air (out-of-doors) sketching, using informal and spontaneous methods as the basis for creating larger paintings in his studio.
In 1851 Church spent six weeks on the Canadian island of Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy, about 125 km north-east of Mount Desert. Known for its dramatic rock formations and stormy weather conditions, the island was home to nearly 1,200 people around this time, mostly fishermen and shipbuilders. In this oil sketch, dark cliffs and cloudy skies evoke the power of nature while the calm sea and the presence in the centre distance of a small boat and standing figure provide a softer, human note. Church made the work directly on the shore using a stiff paperboard and covering every bit of the surface.
The new exhibition reflects Church’s adventurous spirit and highlights the significance of his achievement. In a time before National Geographic and David Attenborough, Church’s paintings of the Arctic, South America, Europe and the Middle East drew great crowds keen to see the visual wonders of the world beyond their reach.
Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the landscape oil sketch 11 May 2013 to 8 September, 2013 Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Admission free www.nationalgalleries.org