Admission is always free Directions

Open today: 10:00 to 5:00

Overview

Niagara's tremendous success both in the United States and abroad secured Frederic Edwin Church's reputation as the most famous American painter of his time. The acquisition of Niagara by the young Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1876 secured the institution's reputation and inspired other major artists to seek representation in the collection.

In the 19th century, many American artists attempted to capture the power and beauty of Niagara Falls. Widely considered the nation's greatest natural wonder as well as a symbol of its youthful vigor and promise, the site was also deemed far superior to any natural phenomenon in Europe. Church's majestic 1857 canvas reveals the vista from the Canadian shore, based on oil and pencil sketches he had made during several visits to the site in 1856. He was the first to render the spectacle on such a grand scale, with such fine detail, naturalism, and immediacy. He heightened the illusion of reality by selecting a non-traditional format of canvas with a width twice as wide as its height to convey the panoramic expanse of the scene. Moreover, he pushed the plane of the falls nearest the viewer significantly downward to reveal more of the far side as well as the dramatic rush of water. Most notably, he eliminated any suggestion of a foreground, allowing the viewer to experience the scene as if precariously positioned on the brink of the falls. As one writer enthusiastically noted, "this is Niagara, with the roar left out!"

Critics and public alike marveled at the painting, which debuted in a one-painting exhibition at a New York City gallery shortly after its completion. The 25-cent admission allowed each visitor to view the monumental canvas, sometimes using binoculars or other optical aids to enhance the experience. The admission price also included a pamphlet reprinting critics' praises of the canvas and offered exhibition-goers the opportunity to purchase a chromolithograph of the painting. Within two weeks, Niagara had lured 100,000 visitors to glimpse what one newspaper critic described as "the finest oil picture ever painted on this side of the Atlantic." Following its phenomenal success in New York, the painting was exhibited in major cities along the eastern seaboard, made two tours of Britain, and was included in the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Inscription

lower right: F.E. Church / 1857

Provenance

Sold 1857 by the artist to (Williams, Stevens & Williams, New York); forfeited to (Brown Brothers Bankers, New York); (sale, Exhibition to Benefit the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, Tiffany & Co., New York, December 1861);[1] purchased by John Taylor Johnston, New York; purchased 1876 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1857
Lloyd's Gallery, Gracechurch Street, London, June-August 1857, no catalogue.
1857
Tenth-Street Studio Building, New York, May 1857, no. cataogue.
1857
Williams, Stevens and Williams, New York, May 1857, unnumbered catalogue, as The Great Fall, Niagara.
1858
German Gallery, London, April-May 1858, no catalogue.
1858
James McClure and Son Gallery, Glasgow, June 1858, no catalogue.
1858
Manchester, England, June-July 1858, no catalogue.
1858
Mr. Grundy’s Gallery, Church Street, Liverpool, July 1858, no catalogue.
1858
Samson Cariss and Co., Baltimore, December-December 1858, no catalogue.
1858
Washington, D.C., December 1858-January 1859, no catalogue.
1858
Williams, Stevens & Williams, New York, September-December 1858, no catalogue.
1859
Armory Hall, New Orleans, March-May 1859, no catalogue.
1859
Hall of the Mechanics’ Institute, Richmond, January-January 1859, no catalogue.
1859
Williams and Everett’s Gallery, Boston, December 1859-February 1860, no catalogue.
1859
Williams, Stevens & Williams, New York, July 1859, no catalogue.
1860
Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York, 11 October 1860, no catalogue.
1860
Messrs. James S. Earle & Sons, Philadelphia, 28 February 1860, no catalogue.
1861
Tiffany Exhibition (To benefit the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor), Old Dusseldorf Gallery, New York, 1861-1862, no catalogue.
1864
Art Exhibition at the Metropolitan Fair, in Aid of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, New York, 4 April 1864, no. 14.
1867
Exposition Universelle, United States Section, Class 1: Paintings on Canvas, Paris, 1867, no. 8.
1867
First Winter Exhibition, Including the First Annual Collection of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors, and the Works from the American Art Department of the Paris Universal Exposition, National Academy of Design, New York, November 1867-March 1968, no. 646.
1870
Second Annual Exhibition of the Yale School of the Fine Arts, Founded as a Department of Yale College, by the Late Augustus Russell Street, of New Haven, Conn., Yale School of Fine Arts, New Haven, 1870, no. 52.
1874
Exhibition of Paintings, Engravings, Drawings, Aquarelles, and Works of Household Art, in the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, Cincinnati, 1874, no. 132.
1876
John Taylor Johnston's Collection, National Academy of Design, New York, November-December 1876, no. 147.
1876
New York Centennial Loan Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, July 1876, no. 102.
1900
Paintings by Frederic E. Church, N.A., Special Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1900, unnumbered catalogue.
1915
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915-1916, no. 2935.
1940
Survey of American Painting, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1940, no. 97.
1949
De Gustibus: An Exhibition of American Paintings Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949, no. 12.
1957
Painting in America: The Story of 450 Years, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1957, no. 106.
1962
American Painting, 1857-1869, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Delaware Art Center, 1962, no. 13.
1964
Three Centuries of Niagara Falls, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1964, no. 23.
1966
Frederic Edwin Church, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington; Albany Institute of History and Art; M. Knoedler and Company, New York, 1966, no. 39 (shown only in Washington).
1970
19th-Century America: Paintings and Sculpture, An Exhibition in Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, no. 105.
1971
The Beckoning Land: Nature and the American Artist: a Selection of Nineteenth Century Paintings, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, April-June 1971, no. 49.
1971
The Natural Paradise: Painting in America, 1800-1950, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October-November 1971, unnumbered catalogue.
1971
Wilderness, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 9 October-14 November 1971, no. 62 (organized by the National Endowment for the Arts).
1976
Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue.
1976
The Natural Paradise: Painting in America, 1800-1950, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1 October-30 November 1976, no. 23.
1978
The American Landscape Tradition, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978, no catalogue.
1979
Close Observation: Selected Oil Sketches by Frederic E. Church, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery; Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Brunnier Gallery, Iowa State University, Ames; Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York, 1979, not in catalogue (shown only in Washington).
1983
A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting 1760-1910, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Grand Palais, Paris, 1983-1984, no. 38.
1985
Niagara: Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697-1901, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; New-York Historical Society, 1985-1986, no. 49.
1988
American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987-1988, unnumbered catalogue.
1989
Frederic Edwin Church, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1989-1990, no. 30.
1998
New Worlds From Old: 19th Century Australian and American Landscapes, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998-1999, no. 73, repro.
2002
American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880, Tate Britain, London; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, unnumbered checklist (shown only in Philadelphia).
2005
Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 26.
2008
Nature as Nation: 19th-Century American Landscapes from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 30 August 2008-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
2009
American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
2013
American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
Bibliography
1882
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1882: 56, no. 81, as Niagara Falls.
1887
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1887: 57, no. 81, as Niagara Falls.
1947
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Handbook of the American Paintings in the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1947: 41, as Niagara Falls.
2003
Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin. "'All Nature Here is New to Art' Painting the American Landscape in the Nineteenth Century." In Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Exh. cat. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 2003: 12, repro.
2003
Kugler, Richard C. "William Bradford." In William Bradford: Sailing Ships and Arctic Seas. Exh. cat. New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2003: 21-22, 24, 32.
2004
Manoguerra, Paula A. "A Felicity of Taste or Nature." In Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter. Exh. cat. Georgia Museum of Art, 2004: 82-83, repro.
2005
Avery, Kevin. Treasures from Olana : Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church. Exh. cat. Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY, 2005: 35, color repro., 36 n. 26.
2005
Bjelajac, David. American Art : A Cultural History. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2005: 215, 217, repro.
2005
Cornell, Daniel. In Masterworks of American Painting at the De Young. Edited by Timothy Anglin Burgard. San Francisco, 2005: 105, 107, 109, repro.
2005
Howat, John K. Frederic Church. New Haven, 2005: 67, 71-74, 79, 88, 118, 128, 134, 186, 189, 190, repro.
2005
Wallach, Alan. "Some Further Thoughts on the Panoramic Mode in Hudson River School Landscape Painting." In Phillip Earenfight and Nancy Siegal. Within the Landscape: Essays on Nineteenth-century American Art and Culture. Carlisle, 2005: 99-105, repro., color repro plate 13.
2006
Davidson, Gail. "Landscape Icons, Tourism, and Land Development in the Northeast." In Barbara Bloemink et. al. Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape. Exh. cat. Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, 2006: 13-18, repro.
2006
Ellegood, Anne. The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas: Recent Sculpture. Exh. cat. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, 2006: 99, color repro.
2006
Rosenbaum, Julia B. Visions of Belonging: New England Art and the Making of American Identity. Ithaca and London, 2006: 82-83, repro., 87.
2006
Simon, Janice. "'Impressed in Memory': John Frederick Kensett's Italian Scene. In Niagara Falls: An Intimate Portrait. Guilford, 2006: 69-72, color repro., 151 n. 19.
2007
Davidson, Susan, ed.. Art in America : 300 years of innovation.Exh. cat. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, 2007: 120-121, color repro.
2008
Barber, John. The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture. Palo Alto, 2008: 417 repro., 420-422.
2010
Galandi-Pascual, Julia. New Topographic:Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape. Freiburg, 2010: 169, color repro.
2010
Morden, Barbara C. John Martin : apocalypse now!. Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2010: x, 96, color repro.
2011
Cao, Maggie M. "Heade's Hummingbirds and the Ungrounding of Landscape." American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 50-51, repro.
2011
Kelly, Franklin. "Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara." In Corcoran Gallery of Art : American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 30, 109, 112-115, 117, 263, repro.
2011
Perry, Clair. The Great American Hall of Wonders: Art, Science, and Invention in the Nineteenth Century. Exh. cat. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 2011: 63-65, 69, 188, 196-197, 208, repro. 64-65.
2016
Zambello, Francesca. "Creating the World of the Ring." Playbill for Richard Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelung (Washington National Opera, 2016). New York, 2016: 12, color repro.