Frederic Edwin Church (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900) was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters. The wealth of Church's father allowed him to pursue his interest in art from a very early age. At eighteen years of age, Church became the pupil of Thomas Cole in Palenville, New York. He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Design five years later, in 1849. Soon after, he sold his first major work to Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum. Church settled in New York where he taught his first pupil, William James Stillman. From the spring to autumn each year Church would travel, often by foot, sketching. He returned each winter to paint and to sell his work. Between 1853 and 1857, Church traveled in South America, financed by businessman Cyrus West Field, who wished to use Church's paintings to lure investors to his South American ventures.
Church was inspired by the Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos and his exploration of the continent; Humboldt had challenged artists to portray the physiognomy of the Andes. Two years after returning to America, Church painted The Heart of the Andes (1859), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is more than five feet high and nearly ten feet in length (167.9 × 302.9 cm). Church unveiled the painting to an astonished public in New York City in 1859. The painting's frame had drawn curtains fitted to it, creating the illusion of a view out a window. The public were charged admission and provided with opera glasses to examine the painting's details. The work was an instant success. Church eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.
Church showed his paintings at the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design and the American Art Union, alongside Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, John F. Kensett, and Jasper F. Cropsey. Critics and collectors appreciated the new art of landscape on display, and its progenitors came be to called the Hudson River School. In 1860 Church bought a farm in Hudson, New York and married Isabel Carnes. Both Church's first son and daughter died in March, 1863 of diphtheria, but he and his wife started a new family with the birth of Frederic junior in 1865. When he and his wife had a family of four children, they began to travel together. In 1867 they visited Europe and the Middle East, allowing Church to return to painting larger works. Before leaving on that trip, Church purchased the eighteen acres (73,000 m²) on the hilltop above his Hudson farm—land he had long wanted because of its magnificent views of the Hudson River and the Catskills. In 1870 he began the construction of Olana on that site. This highly personal and eclectic castle incorporated many of the design ideas that he had acquired in the Middle East. Olana, now owned by the nonprofit Olana Partnership and administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is a New York State historic site open to the public. While Church continued to paint monumental landscapes at Olana, he also enjoyed painting small, spontaneous sketches of clouds and sunsets from his hilltop home.
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