Frederic Edwin Church
American, 1826–1900
View of Cotopaxi
1857

Oil on canvas
62.2 x 92.7 cm (24 1/2 x 36 1/2 in.)
Signed, lower right: "F. E. Church '57"
Gift of Jennette Hamlin in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Dana Webster, 1919.753

Church painted this view of Cotopaxi, a volcanic mountain in Ecuador on the northwestern coast of South America, four years after viewing it on a trip to paint exotic lands virtually unknown to North Americans. His realistic portrayal shows lush flora, a waterfall, and hills that lead to the distant peak. An elevated vantage point permits an awesome view filled with contrasts: green foliage and rugged, barren slopes; water that is calm (lake), explosive (waterfalls), and frozen (peak); and great warmth and extreme cold.

In this panoramic view, Church combined scientific exploration and artistic license (altering the shape of the volcano and the surrounding terrain) to create a symbolic and evocative portrayal of the vast New World. The artist produced at least 10 finished paintings of the dramatic volcanic mountain. He was inspired by the writings of German natural historian Alexander von Humboldt, who interpreted the wonders of the natural world as evidence of God's role as Creator.

Church's paintings, such as Cotopaxi, have also been linked to the idea of Manifest Destiny, a term used during this period by those Americans who not only wished to extend the boundaries of the United States to include Western territories but also favored intervention in the affairs of South America.