May 4: Landscape Art for an Industrializing America

 

Today in 1826, iconic American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church was born in Hartford. The internationally famed artist’s Connecticut roots ran deep: he was a direct descendant of one of the original English Puritans who settled Hartford with Rev. Thomas Hooker. His father, a prominent silversmith, also became a director of Hartford’s Aetna Insurance Company.

As a young man Church’s artistic talent caught the attention of his neighbor Daniel Wadsworth, a notable patron of the arts and future founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum. Wadsworth introduced Church to Thomas Cole, then one of the most famous American landscape painters. Church became the first student to study under Cole, entering a two-year apprenticeship when he was only 18. Five years later, at 23, Church was the youngest person ever invited to join the National Academy of Design.

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, uniquely attuned to the cultural nostalgia for nature that accompanied America’s industrial revolution. Hudson River School artists sought to invoke strong feelings of emotion and awe through large, incredibly detailed, romanticized landscapes. Their paintings were extremely popular throughout 19th-century America, as inhabitants of America’s new and increasingly industrialized towns and cities yearned to reconnect with a natural world from which they felt increasingly isolated.

While Church traveled extensively to find subject matter for his art, he found plenty of inspiration in his home state: 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, Church 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