This fall Reynolda House Museum of American Art
will present a period installation of Frederic Church's masterpiece, "The Andes of Ecuador," in the West Bedroom Gallery, on view from September 26, 2009 through May 30, 2010. The painting, the largest and most ambitious work of Church's early career, was completed in 1855, following the 27-year-old artist's first trip to Columbia and Ecuador.
The vast panorama combines Church's interest in both the scientific and the spectacular. Profoundly influenced by the journeys of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin to South America, the success of "The Andes of Ecuador" encouraged Church's detailed scientific approach to landscape painting and enabled him to adopt a new theatrical exhibition strategyto display his major canvases alone, swathed in velvet curtains, for an admission fee.
The museum will recreate the way these so-called "Great Pictures" were presented to the public in "Andes of Ecuador: Science and Spectacle," a special exhibition of the work. Such contextualization will allow visitors to investigate the intersections between art, science, and spectacle in Church's work while specifically considering the impact of Darwin as the museum celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species."
Also on view in the exhibition will be a first edition of "On the Origin of the Species," once owned by Charles H. Babcock, alongside other books by Darwin and Humboldt. A pair of 19th century opera glasses will be on view, and visitors are invited to use a modern pair to observe the details and scope of the painting. An enlarged reproduction of a stereograph picturing an 1864 installation of Church's "The Heart of the Andes" at the Metropolitan Fair in New York City will give visitors a better sense of this period-style installation.