Frederick Edwin Church’s amazing home and studio, with a remarkable view of the Hudson River, is just a few miles north of where I went to high school and it’s one of the places I’ve been promising myself I’d visit for a long time. Somehow I have managed to put it off until now.
Church’s painting, thought far too romantic and extravagant for much of the twentieth century, is both technically sophisticated and easy to like, if you like pictures of real things and places. I don’t want to paint like him, but I’d love to say I could. He saw something in the landscape that moved him, and successfully conveyed that emotion to a restless nation. The Hudson River painters who followed him helped set the zeitgeist of the mid 1800’s by painting wild and untamed forests alongside settled, man-altered landscapes. We were destined to tame the country, or so their paintings seemed to indicate, but the majesty of the land and the power of nature were never to be ignored. Ineffable, awesome mystery was the real subject, not the hills and rivers of the frontier.
Still, he could paint a mean hill or river when he wanted to. The call was to head west and to follow your heart – a good place for me to start.