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Frederic Edwin Church

May 4, 1826 - April 7, 1900


Frederic Edwin Church is the best-known artist of the Hudson River School of American artists during the 19th century. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1826 and the son of wealthy jeweler and banker Joseph Church. Despite wanting his son to become a businessman, he eventually accepted his son’s career choice and arranged for the younger Church to be the first pupil of prominent landscapist Thomas Cole. Church studied with Cole from 1844 to 1846 in the Catskill and the Berkshire mountains. This instruction under such an influential name gave Church a career advantage. He soon established a studio in New York City and began producing landscape paintings that synthesized sketches from multiple views and locations. He rose to international prominence with his grand-scale painting “Niagara” which was exhibited in the United States and Great Britain. In 1849 he was the youngest member ever elected to the National Academy. Around this time, Church became one of the most famous artists of his generation. He made brief expeditions to Columbia in 1853 and Ecuador in 1857 to study the landscapes. His most famous production from those travels was “The Heart of the Andes,” the most popularly viewed single piece of art of the Civil War era with over 12,000 visitors. Following the death of both of his children, Church traveled to Jamaica to complete sketches of botanical growth and tropical light during a period of intense personal mourning. He later traveled to Jerusalem, where he retraced Jesus Christ’s steps throughout the Holy Land, to the rock city in Petra, Jordan, then to the Parthenon in Athens. His painting of the “Parthenon” was the primary result of this extended international trip. Upon his return to Hudson, NY, he built a Persian-inspired “castle” on his property in 1870-72. He became a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a Parks Commissioner for New York City. With the onset of his rheumatoid arthritis, he became the principal designer for his house. After his death in 1900, Church’s name faded into obscurity but was recovered in the 1960s after the death of his wife and her preservation of their house, which was designated a historic site within the New York state parks system in 1965.

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