The Other Frederick Church

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By the late 1850’s Frederick Church was the most popular artist in America. “He alone,” wrote a contemporary, “with the confidence of success, exhibits his single works as they are completed.” Holding opera glasses, visitors would come to study a solitary canvas —almost always a landscape of enormous complexity, a huge, classical composition crowded with photographic detail. But Church’s admirers never saw the studies he also produced—hasty notations, tossed off in a matter of minutes, but filled with sunlight and greenery and tumbling clouds. Fresh, simple, and direct, they anticipated the work of the impressionists and, to our age, are as appealing as the obsessive intricacy of Church’s more finished works. The examples on the following pages have been culled from a traveling exhibition chosen from some five hundred oil sketches in the collection of New York’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum by curator Theodore Stebbins of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the show originated. On the opposite page is “Sky After Sunset, Hudson, New York,” 1872; on the first overleaf are “Five Studies of New England Landscapes,” 1865; on the second overleaf, “Low Lying Clouds Over Maine Woods,” 1870.