Always the painter of dramatic landscapes, Frederic Edwin Church is widely known not only for his depictions of the vast North American wilderness but also for his amazing paintings of South America. The former, while often produced back in his studio in the United States, was inspired in significant part by the many trips he took to the Southern continent, staying mostly in Quito, in Equador, and are primarily compositions of sketches made during that time. Such is the case of this beautiful landscape, one of the last painted using the South American inspiration.
A brilliant example of those beautiful paintings, composed mostly of sketches made in the artist’s travels through South America, is this oil on canvas, one of the last ones to be produced as a result of said sketches in 1877. The gigantic painting, now in possession of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, is indeed a sight to be seen, with its earnest realism in the depiction of the tropical flora and fauna, showcasing the wealth of life that inhabits the equatorial rainforest.
Unlike Church’s other paintings with the South American theme, in this piece, the artist takes a more intimate approach to the composition, opting for a vantage point closer to the level of the horizon, as opposed to the high lofty almost aerial views his other large-scale depictions of the South American landscapes. On the one hand, that means a more localized and cohesive composition, lending more attention to the minute detail in the vegetation, at the expense of capturing the wildly varied topographies and climate zones that the artist had experienced in his travels.
In his dramatic representation of this surreal equatorial landscape, including red-breasted hummingbirds, flocks of waterfowl and even a distant canoeist, none of which disturbing in the least the peaceful harmony portrayed by Church, the artist offers an almost heavenly sight. The gleaming light and the steam of the morning dew invite, then, the observer to compare it to the creation of the world itself, as if this mostly untouched landscape reflected the very first landscapes ever to exist.
Although heavily criticized by some for keeping himself to imaginary wilderness landscapes and avoiding depictions of human influence, it is indisputable that Church was indeed a master of his craft, and that his paintings, which on the surface seem to depict forests and mountains simply can, in fact, say something much more in-depth about their observers.
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