Frederic Edwin Church

Portrait of Frederic Edwin Church

Frederic Edwin Church was an American landscape painter. He was a major figure in the Hudson River School of artists. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in the United States of America on 4th May 1826 and died in New York on 7th April 1900 aged 73. 

Major Works

75 Artworks including
“The Heart of the Andes” (1859)
“Niagara Falls from the American Side” (1867)
“The Parthenon” (1871)
“The Aegean Sea” (1877)

Biography Timeline

Frederic Edwin Church was born on 4th May 1826 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. He was a direct descendant of Richard Church, a Puritan pioneer from England. His father was Joseph Church a silversmith and jeweller and a director at several finance companies. His mother Eliza came from an iron foundry owning family. The Church family were comfortably off and Frederic was encouraged by his mother to become interested in art from an early age.

1844: Church becomes a pupil of Thomas Cole, a landscape artist in Catskill, New York after Thomas Cole, a neighbour (and founder of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford), introduced them. Cole himself was the founder of the Hudson River School of painters who worked on American landscapes. Church travels widely in New England sketching what he sees for the next two years.

1846: His first recorded sale is a painting depicting Thomas Hooker’s Journey to Connecticut in 1636, to the Wadsworth Athenaeum for $130. 

1848: He is elected as the youngest Associate of the National Academy of Design and begins to teach his own students. 

1849: Church is made a full member of the National Academy of Design.

1850: He settles in New York. 

1851: The painting “New England Scenery” is his first composite landscape using sketches from different directions to build up a larger and more detailed view. He exhibits his work at the American Art Union, the Boston Art Club and the National Academy of Design.

1852: Alexander von Humboldt publishes “Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America” and influences Church greatly.

1853: He makes the first of his two trips to South America and whilst in Ecuador he stays in the house where Humboldt had lived. The trip is paid for by his companion the businessman Cyrus West Field who wanted to use Church’s paintings to encourage investment in his business interests in the region. The two mainly stay in Quito and Church paints views of the Andes Mountains.

1855: He finishes “Andes of Ecuador”.

1857: He makes a second trip to Quito, this time with Louis Remy Mignot an artist. He paints “Niagara”.

1858: He paints “Cayambe”. 

1859: “The Heart of the Andes” becomes Church’s most famous painting when it is exhibited in a single-work exhibition in New York City. Thousands pay to view it and it takes up the whole wall at the end of the room. Church eventually sold it for $10,000 the highest price at the time for a living American artist. He later travels with his friend the Reverend Louis Legrand Noble to Newfoundland and Labrador.

1860: He buys a farm near Hudson, New York and marries Isabel Mortimer Carnes who he had met during the exhibition of “The Heart of the Andes”

1861: Noble publishes “After Icebergs with a Painter” and Church’s painting The Icebergs” goes on display. During the American Civil War he paints “Our Banner in the Sky” and a lithograph is made of it to benefit families of Union soldiers. 

1862: He paints “Cotopaxi”.

1863: He is elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

1865: His two-year-old son Herbert and five-month-old daughter Emma both die of diphtheria in an outbreak in March.

1866: He and his wife start a new family with the birth of a son, Frederic Joseph. 

1867: In the autumn he and his family travel to Europe. They pass through London and Paris and take a boat from Marseille, France to Alexandria in Egypt. He is not interested in the pyramids and moves on to Beirut where he stays for four months.

1868: In February Church travels to the city of Petra, Jordan from Jerusalem on a camel. There he sketches the Al Khazneh tomb which he will use in a later painting. Travelling back though southern Europe the family over winter in Rome where they meet other ex-patriot American artists.

1869: In April they visit the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and he is very impressed it. They finally leave Rome in May and arrive back in the USA in late June.

1870: His daughter Louis Palmer is born. Before departing for his trip, he purchased eighteen acres on a hilltop overlooking the Hudson River and the Catskill mountains. He now begins building a home there and is heavily involved in its design which has many Persian inspired features.

1871: His daughter Isabel Charlotte is born. 

1872: The house is finally complete and the family move in during the summer.

1874: He paints “El Khasne, Petra”.

1876: He is now suffering from acute rheumatism in his hand and teaches himself to paint with his left hand although this slows him down immensely. He spends most of his winters now in Mexico because of the warmth and continues to teach students there.

1899: His wife Isabel who has been ill for several years dies on 12th May at the home of friend and patron, William H. Osborn on Park Avenue in New York City.

Frederic Edwin Church died on 7th April 1900 at his home Olana in New York City. He was buried next to his wife in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut. He was reported to be worth half a million dollars at his death.