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Friday, May 2, 2014

Heart of the Andes

The Heart of the Andes, 1859, Frederic Edwin Church
Next month I’ll be down at Olana (the home of Frederic Edwin Church) to paint with friends from New York Plein Air Painters. To prepare myself, I stopped by the Metropolitan Museum to visit his most famous painting, The Heart of the Andes.

This is an enormous canvas—ten feet wide and five feet high—that depicts the whole panoply of earthly conditions, from the peak of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador in the far distance to the lush jungle landscape lying at our feet.

The Heart of the Andes, 1859, (detail) Frederic Edwin Church, showing the focal tree at the lower left.
Church visited Ecuador and Columbia twice. He was retracing the journeys of a famous 19th century naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt. The Heart of the Andes is a composite view, including topography from many places.  The enormity of the canvas allows him to use more than one focal light. There is human activity, most noticeably on the path that leads us in to the cross, but we are cut off from most of it.

The Heart of the Andes, 1859, (detail) Frederic Edwin Church, showing the remarkably intricate foliage running along the right.
In the month of its first showing (in 1859) more than 12,000 people paid a quarter each to see it, waiting for hours in line.

“Nobody would pay a quarter to see a painting today,” Brad Marshall said as we looked at it. “They’d just look at it online.” But no photograph can capture this painting, particularly the intricate work running through the foreground.

The Heart of the Andes, 1859, (detail) Frederic Edwin Church, showing the church and village in the middle distance. There are worlds within worlds in this painting and the mind boggles at the idea of how he sketched it out.
Church eventually sold the work for $10,000, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click 
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