Overview

Like his teacher, Thomas Cole, Church conveyed a sense of awesome sublimity in his landscapes by celebrating the seemingly infinite wonders of the natural world. The artist devoted a great deal of time to scientific study, believing that a knowledge of optics, meteorology, botany, and ecology would greatly enhance his work. After reading the journalistic accounts of the German naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt, Church explored wilderness regions from the arctic to the equator.

El Rio de Luz (The River of Light) is a fanciful pastiche based on numerous sketches and notations that Church had made during an 1857 trip to South America. Despite the time–lapse of 20 years, the tightly focused realism, the overall tonal harmony and restrained coloration, and the compositionial unity all lend a remarkable cohesiveness to the work. Church rendered the verdant foliage with exquisite attention to detail, and his virtuoso treatment of tropical sunlight diffused by morning mist makes the atmosphere seem tangible. Red–breasted hummingbirds, a flock of waterfowl, and a distant canoeist occupy the scene, but they do not disturb the overall mood of tranquility. Confronted with the glowing light and heavy vapors of this raw landscape, the viewer is invited to liken daybreak in the tropical rainforest to the dawn of creation itself.

Inscription

lower right: F. E. CHURCH / 1877

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

William Earl Dodge, Jr. [d. 1903], New York;[1] his wife, Mrs. William Earl Dodge, Jr. [d. 1909], New York; her grandson, William Earl Dodge IV [d. 1927], New York;[2] his wife, Ella Lynch Dodge [d. 1964], New York; her stepdaughter, Diana Dodge Ryan, Newport;[3] given in 1965 to the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island; purchased 9 December 1965 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1877
Century Association, New York, 1877, no. 5, as A Tropical Morning.
1878
Exposition Universelle Internationale, Palais du Champ de Mars, Paris, 1878, no. 20, as Le matin sous les tropiques.
1878
Possibly The Union League Club, New York, 1878, no cat.
1880
Loan Collection of Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1880, no. 111, as The River of Light.
1900
Paintings by Frederic E. Church, N.A., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1900, no. 13, repro.
1966
Frederic Edwin Church, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; Albany Institute of History and Art; M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 1966, no. 97 (shown only in Washington).
1968
The Hudson River School, Fine Arts Center, State University College, Geneseo, New York, 1968, repro. 61.
1969
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
1971
The Beckoning Land, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1971, no. 51, repro.
1989
Frederic Edwin Church, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1989-1990, no. 49, color repro.
2000
In Search of the Promised Land: Paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, Berry-Hill Galleries, New York; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Portland Museum of Art, Maine, 2000-2001, pl. 66 (not shown in New York).

Bibliography

1878
"American Art in Paris." Art Journal 4 (May 1878): 160.
1878
"Art at the Union League Club." New York Post (28 February 1878): 2.
1879
French, H.W. Art and Critics in Connecticut. Boston, 1879: 134.
1880
Brownwell, William C. "The Younger Painters of America." Scribner's Monthly 20 (May 1880): 323-324.
1889
Montgomery, Walter, ed. American Art and American Art Collections. 2 vols. Boston, 1889. Reprint, New York and London, 1978: 2:774.
1966
_Frederic Edwin Church. Exh. cat. National Collection of Fine Arts (now National Museum of American Art), Washington, D.C., 1966: 18, 68, no. 97.
1966
Huntington, David C. The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era. New York, 1966: 49, 93, 103, 194, 105-106, 108-109, 126, 129, figs. 90, 91.
1966
Stevens, Elisabeth. "An Observant Melodramatist." Art in America 40 (April 1966): 46.
1970
_American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 40, repro.
1971
Campbell, William P. "The American Heritage at the National Gallery of Art." The Connoisseur 178 (December 1971): 270.
1973
Lindquist-Cock, Elisabeth. "Frederic Church's Stereographic Vision." Art in America 61 (September-October 1973): 72, repro. 70.
1973
Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. "Church, Frederic Edwin." In The Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art. Chicago, 1973: 116.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 550, no. 831, color repro.
1976
Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. The Hudson River School: 19th Century American Landscapes in the Wadsworth Atheneum. Hartford, 1976: 51.
1977
Brown, Milton W. American Art to 1900. New York, 1977: 339, repro. 340.
1977
Lindquist-Cock, Elizabeth. The Influence of Photography on American Landscape Painting. New York, 1977: 119, pl. 35 (detail), 227.
1978
Stebbins, Theordore E., Jr. Close Observation: Selected Sketches by Frederic E. Church. Exh. cat. Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., 1978: 48.
1979
Wilmerding, John. "Luminism: The Poetry of Light." Portfolio 1 (June-July 1979): repro. 29.
1980
_American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 130, repro.
1980
Wilmerding, John. American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, Paintings, Drawings, Photographs. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 17, 36, 121, 174, 184, repro. 120.
1980
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 11, 15, 19, no. 31, color repro.
1981
Williams 1981, color repro. 102-3, 119 detail, 121-122.
1982
Mrozek, Donald J. "The American Idea of Recreation and the Changing Role of the National Parks." Conspectus of History 1 (1982): 20.
1983
Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr., Carol Troyen, and Trevor J. Fairbrother. A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting, 1760-1910. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Grand Palais, Paris. Boston, 1983: 249.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 547, no. 822, color repro.
1987
Kelly, Franklin. "Frederic Church in the Tropics." Arts in Virginia 27 (1987): 32, 33, fig. 16.
1988
Kelly, Franklin. Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape. Washington, D.C., 1988: 126.
1988
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 114, no. 34, color repro.
1989
Kelly, Franklin, Stephen J. Gould, and James Anthony Ryan. Frederic Edwin Church. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1989: 12, 14, 67-68, 163-164, 170, 203, no. 49, color repro. 125.
1989
Manthorne, Katherine Emma. Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839-1879. Washington and London, 1989: I, 60, repro. 61.
1989
Miller, David C. Dark Eden: The Swamp in Nineteenth Century American Culture. Cambridge, 1989: 113-116, fig. 4.2; pl. 5, misdated 1876.
1992
_American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 142, repro.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 236, repro.
1996
Davis, John. The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth Century American Art and Culture. Princeton, 1996: 197.
1996
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 63-68, color repro.
1996
Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin. American Paintings Before 1945 in the Wadsworth Atheneum. London, 1996: no. 213, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 306-307, no. 246, color repro.

Technical Summary

The support is a relatively thin and fine plain-weave fabric mounted on the original stretcher. The panel-back stretcher has eleven members with mortise-and-tenon joins. A white ground layer was applied, over which a thin brown layer may have been laid. The paint was applied very thinly in most areas, with the darks particularly built up with many glazes. The highlights were more thickly painted, with some areas of impasto. The paint layer is generally in very good condition, with only scattered small losses and minor areas of \rabrasion. In 1988 discolored varnish was removed and the painting was restored. This conservation effort removed significant passages of inpaint from the trees in the middle distance at the center of the painting. The inpainting hid pentimenti formed by brushed underpaint that the artist used in laying out the major characteristics of the composition; the pentimenti were then subsequently inpainted to minimize visual disruption.

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