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Through American eyes: Frederic Church and the landscape oil sketch opens at the Scottish National Gallery
Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867. © National Galleries of Scotland.

EDINBURGH.- The major exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery this summer celebrates the work of one of the greatest of all American landscape painters. Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch brings together 25 works by an artist who revelled in the grandeur of the natural world, and whose dramatic paintings of far-flung locations from Newfoundland to the Middle East made him extremely popular in Europe as well as the USA.

Frederic Church (1826-1900) rose to fame as a member of the Hudson River School, a group of American painters who started that country’s great tradition of landscape painting. However, it was the artist’s travels in search of stirring subjects and appetite for new experiences that defined his output.

Working in the outdoors, in front of the spectacular settings that inspired him, Church painted rapid sketches in oil paint which often served as studies for large-scale paintings, but whose freshness and spontaneity make them remarkable in their own right.

Though Church was a prolific and hugely accomplished master of this technique, and practised it throughout his life, this is the first exhibition in Europe to explore this aspect of his work. It features works such as Storm in the Blue Mountains, Jamaica, 1865 and Königssee, Bavaria, 1868, which perfectly illustrate Church’s skill in combining dramatic compositions with beautifully observed light effects. Other works, such as Popacatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl at Sunset, c.1884-5; Ed Deir, Petra, Jordan, 1868; and The Iceberg, which was painted in the waters off Labrador around 1875, are a testament to Church's adventurous and pioneering spirit and the ambitious scope of his vision.

The exhibition also includes paintings such as Winter Twilight from Olana, c.1871-72, and Sunrise (The Rising Sun), 1862, which were executed close to Church’s home in Hudson, New York State, with its with magnificent views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains.

To illustrate the relationship of Church's oil sketches to his finished studio canvases, the exhibition will also include the greatest American landscape painting in Europe, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867, from the Scottish National Gallery's own collection. This breathtakingly detailed masterpiece, with its vertiginous viewpoint above the cascading waters, created a sensation when it was shown in London in 1868, and helps to illustrate the significance of Church’s achievement: in a time before National Geographic and Sir David Attenborough, when the art of photography was still in its infancy, Church’s paintings of the Arctic, South America, Europe and the Middle East brought to the great crowds that came to see them the visual wonders of the world beyond their reach.

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