When Frederic Edwin Church traveled to Maine in 1850 to paint the coast, he followed in the footsteps of several other American painters: Thomas Doughty had painted there in the 1830s and in 1836 had exhibited his view of the lighthouse of Mount Desert Island at the Boston Athenaeum (Desert Rock...
When Frederic Edwin Church traveled to Maine in 1850 to paint the coast, he followed in the footsteps of several other American painters: Thomas Doughty had painted there in the 1830s and in 1836 had exhibited his view of the lighthouse of Mount Desert Island at the Boston Athenaeum (Desert Rock Lighthouse, Maine, 1936, private collection); Church’s esteemed teacher, Thomas Cole, had first visited Mount Desert during the summer of 1844, painting many views of the area (for example, View Across Frenchman’s Bay from Mt. Desert Island, After a Squall, 1845, Cincinnati Art Museum,Ohio); and Church may have seen Fitz Henry Lane’s Twilight on the Kennebec (1849, private collection),which was exhibited in 1849 at the American Art-Union in New York City, where Church lived and kept a studio. The clarity of light and atmosphere in Church’s cabinet-sized picture is reminiscent of works by German painter Andreas Achenbach and the Düsseldorf masters, whose polished and carefully delineated landscapes were highly acclaimed during the late 1840s and 1850s when they were exhibited at the American Art-Union and the Düsseldorf Gallery in New York City. When Achenbach’s Clearing Up, Coast of Sicily (1847, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore) received commendation in the press, the Bulletin of the American Art-Union reported that Church, along with two other painters, had gone off to Maine with the magnificent coastal painting by Achenbach in mind. Like Cole, who had been greatly inspired by his circle of Knickerbocker writers, Church may have been motivated to visit the Maine coast by the contemporary essays of New Englander Henry David Thoreau, whose own pursuit of the American wilderness took him to Maine. In 1848 Union Magazine published Thoreau’s “Ktaadin and the Maine Woods,” which described his travels deep into the interior of the state. When Church visited Otter Creek in 1850, Maine was still considered largely wilderness. The artist spent most of his time on the coast, although he would later visit many of the sites Thoreau described, including Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. Recalling Cole’s depictions of the American wilderness [47.1201] and the encroachment of civilization, Church juxtaposes the majestic, craggy faces of Cadillac and Dorr mountains with the settlers’ cottage visible at their base. Notes 1. “Chronicle of Facts and Opinions; American Art and Artists; Movements of Artists,” Bulletin of the American Art-Union, series for 1850 (August 1850): 81, quoted in Franklin Kelly and Gerald L. Carr, The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845–1854 (Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987), 58. 2. Henry David Thoreau, “Ktaadn and the Maine Woods,” Union Magazine 3, serialized in five installments: “The Wilds of the Penobscot,”July 1848, 29–33; “Life in the Wilderness,” August 1848, 73–79; “Boating in the Lakes,” September 1848, 132–37; “The Ascent of Ktaadn,” October 1848, 177–82; “The Return Journey,” November 1848, 216–20. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower left, on rock: F. CHURCH
By 1851, James Lefevre, Philadelphia; 1948, with Childs Gallery Boston and Harry Shaw Newman Gallery, New York; about 1951, sold by Childs Gallery and Harry Shaw Newman Gallery to R. Amory Thorndike (1900-1972), Bar Harbor, Maine; 1972, by descent to his wife, Elizabeth F. (Mrs. R. Amory) Thorndike (1908-1992); 1982, partial purchase and partial gift of Mrs. R. Amory Thorndike to the MFA. (Accession Date: April 23, 1986)
Seth K. Sweetser Fund, Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund, Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund and Gift of Mrs. R. Amory Thorndike