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Frederic Edwin (1826) Church (1826 - 1900)

Lot 15: Frederic Church (1826-1900)

Christie's

December 5, 2002
New York, NY, US

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Home by the Lake signed and dated 'F.E. Church 1852' (lower right) oil on canvas 261/2 x 401/2 in. (67.3 x 102.9 cm.) PROVENANCE Henry Dwight, Jr., 1852. Chester Thorne, Tacoma, Washington, circa 1900. Anita Thorne Stone, Tacoma, Washington. By descent in the family to the present owner. EXHIBITION New York, The National Academy of Design, 1852, no. 456 NOTES Perhaps the leading American painter of his day, Frederic Edwin Church's successes made him a paradigm of the modern artists hailed by Henry Tuckerman, the nineteenth century art historian. In his 1849 book, Sketches of Eminent American Painters, Tuckerman cites the work of a new generation of artists (Church among them) who were "distinguished by a feeling for nature which has made landscape, instead of mere imitation, a vehicle for great moral impressions." Possibly no other American so faithfully captured the higher, more elusive meanings of landscape as Church, whose unmatched ability to record natural details captivated the public, and earned him a reputation for technical brilliance even as a young man. By this date, while still in his twenties, Church had already been elected a full academician at the National Academy of Design in New York, and he was now solidly established as an artist of importance and promise. In Home by the Lake, Church presents a bucolic scene set against a dramatic backdrop of towering hills, presenting a landscape full of the promise and potential of the 1850's. Four figures leisurely drift in a wooden skiff through a calm lake surface in the foreground. The surrounding dark green forest opens into a clearing where a house is nestled subtly at the foot of a small cliff. These pioneers have settled in this new land, yet there exists a sense of undisturbed landscape. Franklin Kelly notes that "over and over again, he [Church] was drawn to settled areas, to places where Americans had smoothed the rough edges of the raw material of the land...His faith in the nation's destiny determined that he show a peaceful and harmonious assimilation of man into the natural world." ( Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 69) Home by the Lake is as much a picture about this assimilation, as a picture of the land itself. Church leads us through this undisturbed scene with a full range of palette: deep shades of cool green tones in the foreground lead to the warm rose colored cliff surfaces of the middle ground and stretch to a background of faint purple rolling hills. These passages of light and shadow beneath a pristine sky combine to create a stunning masterwork. The optimistic promise of nature's presence in Home by the Lake draws from many influences. Foremost, Church's work draws upon many of the themes from the luminist movement, a term later assigned to a group of landscape artists working in the middle to second half of the nineteenth century, including Fitz Hugh Lane, Martin Johnson Heade, John F. Kensett, and Sanford Robinson Gifford, among others. Although not a purely luminist painter, Church does incorporate many of the structural and stylistic characteristics of the movement into his work; landscapes that were characterized by the effect of light, creating poetic atmosphere through the use of aerial perspective, a hiding of visible brushstrokes, and most profoundly, the manifestation of religion in nature. Barbara Novak notes that "luminism was the most profound expositor of transcendental feelings toward God and nature and God as nature." (in J. Wilmerding, American Light, The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, Washington, D.C., 1980, p. 28). Moreover, Novak "links to Emersonian transcendentalism the luminist's distillation of light as a concentration of divine presence-more in the pictures of calm, glassy clarity rather than ones of vibrating, exotic color." ( American Light, The Luminist Movement, p. 17). Whether in landscapes of dramatic light or stunning precision of detail, paintings from this era inevitably sought a deeper meaning of nature's spiritual existence. Creating large scaled works of nature's sublime presence, Church especially sought to evoke these luminist philosophies regarding religion and nature. Working to develop paintings past the more traditional Hudson River School format, Church integrated into his paintings the broader themes of Jacksonian manifest destiny along with the transcendent spiritual beauty of nature. Home by the Lake is Church's remarkable example of this reverence for nature as well as the ideals people's assimilation into this nature during the nation's expansion. Describing similar works, David Huntington remarks that "Church's scene is a wondrous vision of a sanctified nation. It is a thrilling revelation which 'enraptures' the beholder, inspiring him to go forward into the world." He continues to say that "Church's nature speaks as God, directing man, the divine creature, and agent of His will." ( American Light, The Luminist Movement, p. 186) Church has created a similarly inspiring work in Home by the Lake . The use of aerial perspective removes Church as narrator in the scene, and forces the viewer to become enveloped in this vast and detailed scene of man carving a new life out for himself. Moreover, by limiting any noticeable brushwork in the present work, Church has effectively further supressed his own presence in the scene, so that this is a nature by God, not one created by the artist. The large scale of the work, combined with an overall sense of silent calm, also work effectively into this notion of a religious presence in this sublime nature. Many of Church's works compelled observers to prescribe additional religious interpretations. Twilight in the Wilderness for example inspired an "Old Testament image of a wilderness as a place where individuals, or entire nations, lost their way in their quest for spiritual salvation." ( Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, p. 121) Home by the Lake presents a hopeful promise for a changing nation's future. While creating a powerful and grand scene of God's nature, Church has also presented a picture of quiet solitude, as these pioneers effectively assimilate into an overwhelming expanse of wilderness. Home by the Lake is a deeply profound work and a stunning representation of the artistic, political and social influences of Church's day. In the Academy exhibit, Home by the Lake received a number of positive reviews. In the New York Daily Tribune, for example, a writer remarked on the technical richness of the work: "In the Home by the Lake there is an exquisite transparency of distance, and a beautiful reality, which continually allure the eye." The critic of The Home Journal also offered a laudatory view of Home by the Lake and another work shown by Church, The Wreck, which he exhibited at the same time: "In these pictures, the academical character is vindicated from the too flippant criticisms which non-professional writers indulge in. The solidity of touch and general management are admirable. They deserve the most minute attention. The rocks and hills seem as prominent on the canvas as if they assumed the character of reality, and the lights and shadows are conducted with great art and effect." Finally, a critic from The Knickerbocker makes reference in particular to the sky, writing that it "is excellent; beautiful and refined in form, and true in color." ("The Fine Arts Exhibition of the National Academy," New York Daily Tribune, Saturday 8 May 1852, p. 5 CV. XII, no. 3450; The Home Journal, Saturday May 15, 1852; "Exhibition of the National Academy of Design," The Knickerbocker, vol. XXXIX, no. 6, June 1852, pp. 563-8). This painting will be included in Gerald Carr's forthcoming catalogue raisonn‚ of the artist's oil paintings sponsored by Berry-Hill Galleries.

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