Reynolda House Museum of American Art to Present ‘Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage’
WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Reynolda House Museum of American Art will present “Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” from Feb. 9 – May 13, 2018. The exhibition is the first to explore the American artist’s paintings inspired by his travels to ancient sites in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. More than 50 paintings, oil studies, and drawings from the late 1860s through the early 1880s will be on view.
The most popular artist in mid-19th-century America, Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) took landscape painting to new heights of grandeur and was best known for his large, visually stunning paintings of American scenes as well as views of South America, the North Atlantic, and the Caribbean. But from 1867 until the end of his life, many of Church’s most important paintings represented ancient cities or buildings that he saw during his 1867–69 trip to the Middle East, Rome, and Athens. While Church’s paintings of the New World focused on the natural world, his works from the Old World explored human history. The exhibition brings together nearly all of Church’s most important paintings of the Mediterranean region and Holy Land in order to explore this major shift in his artistic practice.
“’Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage’ provides a remarkable opportunity to see the work of one of the most honored Hudson River School artists whose painting ‘The Andes of Ecuador’ is one of the most important works in the Reynolda House collection,” says Allison Perkins, director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art. “All of the work in the exhibition was created after Church observed firsthand some of antiquity’s most extraordinary cities, buildings, temples, and ruins. The exhibition juxtaposes pencil drawings and oil studies that Church completed during his trip with paintings he completed back in his studio.”
Lenders to the exhibition include The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Detroit Institute of Arts; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, New York; and private collections. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with essays by Kenneth John Myers, curator of American art, Detroit Institute of Arts; Gerald Carr, independent scholar; Kevin J. Avery, senior research scholar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Mercedes Volait, director of the research center, InVisu at the Institute national d’histoire de l’art, Paris. The exhibition was organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Exhibition Highlights – Highlights of “Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” include three of the largest and most important paintings inspired by the trip. The one that Church did the most to publicize was Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, 1870. When it was exhibited the following year, spectators flocked to see the painting, using opera glasses to examine the details. For his first canvas of a major building, Church chose the most archetypal structure of Western civilization: The Parthenon. During his fifteen days in Athens, he created 30 sketches and studies in pencil and oil (nine of which are in the exhibition). The resulting painting, “The Parthenon,” 1871, drew much admiration and excellent reviews. The success of the painting led Church to idealize the Roman ruins at Baalbek in “Syria by the Sea,” 1873, which combines a Corinthian column and spectacular ruins with a powerful shining sun.
Among a large selection of rarely seen oil studies and pencil drawings that Church completed during his travels, the exhibition presents one previously unknown and unusually finished oil study, “View of Baalbek,” 1868. Two privately owned paintings, “Evening on the Sea,” 1877-78, and “Springtime in the Levant,” 1878, are being seen in a museum exhibition for the first time.
Following his journey to the Middle East and Europe, Church embarked on what became his last major artistic creation: the estate he named Olana, crowning a high hill overlooking the Hudson River one hundred miles north of New York City. Inspired by Near Eastern architecture and ornament, as well as by the artist’s own aesthetic and spiritual ideals, Olana absorbed his attention for well over three decades. Included in the exhibition are some of the architectural drawings that Church created while planning his Persian-style temple on a hill.
“Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” unites a major Church painting in Reynolda House Museum of American Art’s collection, “The Andes of Ecuador,” 1855, with later work by the artist in order to examine the way the focus of Church’s late work shifted from the natural world to human history. While “The Andes of Ecuador” represents the natural features of a South American landscape, including waterfalls, ravines, plateaus, and mountain peaks, the paintings in “Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” focus on ancient cities and buildings.
“Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Generous support has been provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. A significant loan of objects has been provided by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Reynolda House Museum of American Art is grateful for the generous support of the exhibition from Presenting Sponsors First Tennessee Bank, Flow Automotive Companies, and Wake Forest University. Special thanks to Major Sponsors Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm Brown, the David R. Hayworth Foundation, the Cathleen & Ray McKinney Exhibition Fund, and the Charles H. Babcock, Jr. Arts and Community Initiative Endowment; Contributing Sponsors Harriet and Elms Allen and Betty and Jim Becher; and Exhibition Partners Dr. James M. Walter, Jr., and The Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn.
The exhibition will travel to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., from June 2 to Aug. 26, 2018.
Program Highlight – The museum will host half-day symposium Saturday, April 21, 2018, placing Church’s paintings and travels within a broader interdisciplinary context, drawing upon history, science, religious studies, and literature. Dr. Kenneth John Myers, curator of American art and head of the department of American art the Detroit Institute of Arts, who organized the exhibition and edited the exhibition catalogue, will discuss Church’s religious faith and suggest some of the ways in which Church’s assumptions about beauty, truth, and God shaped his artistic practice. Jennifer Raab, assistant professor in the history of art at Yale University, will address the intersection of art and science in Church’s work, moving from his early interest in Darwin’s writings to the dynamic between painting and photography. Raab is the author of “Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail” and studied Reynolda’s Church painting extensively during a post-doctoral fellowship at the museum. Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, will place Church’s work within a broader history of landscape painting in a global context, challenging the notion of Church’s art as a distinctly American mode of expression.
About Frederic Church – Born in 1826 in Hartford, Connecticut, Frederic Edwin Church moved to Catskill, New York, in 1844 where he studied with Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of painters. In 1845, Cole praised his student for having “the finest eye for drawing in the world.” Among the most spectacular of Church’s early landscapes was Niagara, 1857, which made an extremely vivid impression on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1853, Church made the first of two expeditions to South America. When his painting The Heart of the Andes, 1859, was exhibited in New York, it attracted thousands of viewers, and his reputation was confirmed as one of the most famous and successful artists of the 19th century. In 1860, he settled with his new wife, Isabel Carnes, on a hillside farm overlooking the Hudson River in New York State. More travels followed including an expedition to the north Atlantic between Labrador and Greenland, which resulted in Icebergs: The North, 1861, and to Jamaica in 1865 to help assuage their grief after losing their two children to diphtheria. In 1867, Church and his wife, along with their young son and mother-in-law, left on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the Middle East and to Europe. Church built his Persian-inspired home, Olana, in 1870-72, and remained there raising four children, becoming Parks Commissioner for New York City, and a founding trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He died in 1900 in New York City. In 1966, his home became a New York State Historic Site.
About Reynolda House Museum of American Art – Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is recognized as a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions. The museum presents an exceptional collection of art by America’s most noted artists in an incomparable setting: the 1917 country home of Katharine and Richard Joshua (R. J.) Reynolds. Spanning 250 years of painting, prints, sculpture, photography and video art, the collection has been guided with the prescient and unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds. Highlights include important works by Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Chuck Close, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Martin Johnson Heade, Lee Krasner, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, Gilbert Stuart and Grant Wood. In addition to its collection of fine art, Reynolda House holds decorative arts and estate archive collections and mounts exhibitions from all periods in the 2005 Charles and Mary Babcock Wing. Established in 1967 and now affiliated with Wake Forest University, the museum is marking two anniversaries in 2017—the 50th of its founding and the 100th of the completion of its estate—with major exhibitions and events. The complete Reynolda experience includes Reynolda Gardens, composed of formal gardens, walking trails and wetlands, and Reynolda Village, now an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in many of the estate’s original buildings. For more information, please visit reynoldahouse.org.