May 4: Hudson River School Artist Frederic Edwin Church born in Hartford


On this day in 1826, iconic American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church was born in Hartford, Connecticut.  The internationally-renowned artist’s Connecticut roots ran deep: He was a direct descendant of one of the original English Puritans who settled Hartford under the leadership of Thomas Hooker, and Frederic’s father was a prominent silversmith and later a director of Hartford’s Aetna Insurance Company.

As a young man showing signs of artistic talent, Church caught the attention of his neighbor Daniel Wadsworth, a notable patron of the arts and future founder of the Wadsworth Athaneum.  Wadsworth arranged for young Church to meet Thomas Cole, then one of the most famous and sought-after American landscape painters.  Church became the first student to formally study under Cole, beginning his two-year apprenticeship when he was only 18 years old.  Five years later, he became the youngest person to ever join the National Academy of Design at the age of 23.

Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness. Wadsworth Athenaeum
Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness. Wadsworth Athenaeum

Church quickly became one of the most famous painters of the Hudson River School, a distinctly American art movement founded by Thomas Cole that sought to invoke strong feelings of emotion and awe through large, incredibly detailed, romanticized landscapes.  Such paintings were hugely popular in 19th century America, as the country expanded westward and inhabitants of increasingly industrialized towns and cities yearned to reconnect with nature.

While Church traveled the world extensively to find subject material for his paintings, he found plenty of inspiration from his home state of Connecticut as well: Two of his most famous works feature Hartford’s legendary Charter Oak (1846) and New Haven’s West Rock (1849).   After his death in 1900, he was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in his hometown of Hartford.

Further Reading

Frederic Edwin Church,” U.S. National Gallery of Art

Church’s World,” Olana State Historic Site

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