View of Cotopaxi

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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

One of the leading American landscape painters in the mid-nineteenth century, Frederic Edwin Church approached his subject matter as both an artist and a scientist. Inspired by the writings of the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, Church visited the mountainous terrain of South America twice, in 1853 and 1857. In this untamed “New World”—and particularly in what was then the highest active volcano in the world, the mighty Ecuadorian Cotopaxi—Church saw the perfect symbol of primeval nature and the spiritual renewal it could bring to civilization. This view of the smoldering cone of Cotopaxi (which means “shining mass” in Incan) was completed after Church’s first trip to South America. A dazzling compendium of minutely rendered wildlife, vegetation, and terrain, the canvas illustrates the fascinating contrasts indigenous to this locale: from the calm water to the explosive cascades and from the lush, green foliage to the frozen, barren peak. The elevated vantage point, which makes the viewer feel suspended in midair, heightens these evocative juxtapositions. One of at least ten finished canvases featuring the Andean volcano that Church executed over the course of almost two decades, this painting represents an intermediate vision between his more naturalistic early pieces and the dramatic, transcendental works of his mature career.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 31.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Chicago, Burch’s Building, Chicago Exhibition of Fine Arts First Exhibition of Statuary, Paintings, etc, 1859, cat. 180, as “Landscape.”

Chicago, McVicker’s Theatre Building, Chicago Exhibition of the Fine Arts of the Chicago Branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, 1863, cat. 200, as “South America.”

Oakenwald School, Chicago, IL, "Paintings and Water Colors," Dec. 6, 1935.

Art Institute of Chicago and New York City, Whitney Museum of Art, The Hudson River School, 1945, cat. 45.

New London, Conn., Lyman Allyn Museum, Eighty Eminent Painters of Connecticut, 1947, cat. 90.

Milwaukee-Downer College, Wisconsin, A Century of Landscape Painting by American Artists, 1851-1951, Feb. 13 - March 23, 1951, cat. no. 3. *only checklist on back of symposium brochure, "The Arts in Society," Milwaukee-Downer College Feb. 13, 1951.

Durand Art Institute, Lake Forest College, A Century of American Painting: Masterpieces Loaned by The Art Institute of Chicago, June 10-16, 1957, cat. 1.

Newark, University of Delaware and Wilmington Society of Fine Arts, American Painting 1857-1869, January 10-February 18, 1962, cat. 14.

Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Creation and Renewal: Views of Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church, March 29-July 14, 1985, cat. 6.

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Frederic Edwin Church, October 8, 1989-January 28, 1990, cat. 29.

Tokyo, Japan, Masterworks of Modern Art from The Art Institute of Chicago; traveled to Nagaoka, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, April 20-May 29, 1994, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, June 10-July 24, 1994, Yokohama Museum of Art August 6-September 25, 1994.

New York City, Berry-Hill Galleries, In Search of the Promised Land: Frederic Edwin Church and Exploration, April 25-June 30, 2000; traveled to Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, August 5-October 1, 2000, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, October 21, 2000-January 3, 2001, Portland Museum of Art, Maine, January 18-March 18, 2001 (Maine only).

Publication History

Chicago Press and Tribune, June 1, 1859, p. 2.

“The Art Exhibition,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 27, 1863, p. 2.

“The Art Exhibition of the Sanitary Fair: First Alcove,” Chicago Daily Journal, Oct. 29, 1863, p. 4.

Handbook of Paintings and Drawings, The Art Institute of Chicago, pt. II (Art Institute of Chicago, 1920), p. 56, no. 547.

The Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 14 (Art Institute of Chicago, 1920), p. 28.

Guide to the Paintings and Drawings (Art Institute of Chicago, 1925), p. 130, no. 547.

Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly 45 (Sept 1951), p. 45 (ill.).

“Art in Chicago: Americans Reinstalled,” Art Digest (Oct. 1951), ill.

David C. Huntington, Frederic Edwin Church, 1826-1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth (Ph.D. Diss., Yale University, 1960), p. 107.

David Hanks, “American Paintings at The Art Institute of Chicago,” Nov. 1973, p. 902.

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998) pp. 188-90, no. 86.

Ownership History

Walter Wright, Chicago, from 1857 to 1876; by descent to Anne E. Webster, from 1876 to 1894; by descent to Lewis Dana Webster, from 1894 to 1908; by descent to Ida Hamlin Webster, from 1908 to 1912; by descent to Mary Jennette Hamlin, from 1912 to 1919; given to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1919.