Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail 9780300212860

Frederic Church (1826–1900), the most celebrated painter in the United States during the mid-19th century, created monum

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Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail

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Frederic Church

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Frederic Church The Art and Science of Detail

Jennifer Raab

yale univer sit y pr ess n ew h av e n a n d lon d on

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Published with assistance from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. Publication has also been made possible by the generous support of the Department of the History of Art Publications Fund,Yale University. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Raab. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Excerpt from “Desert Places” from the book The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1936 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1964 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Designed and set in Perpetua type by Carolyn Eckert Printed in China by Regent Publishing Services Limited Library of Congress Control Number: 2014952573

isbn 978-0-300-20837-5 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This paper meets the requirements of ansi/niso z 39.48–1992 (Permanence of Paper). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Jacket illustrations: (front) Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1850 (detail of fig. 22); (back) Frederic Edwin Church, Floating Iceberg, 1859 (fig. 38) Frontispiece: Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861 (detail of fig. 39) Page vi: Detail of fig. 22


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f or m y pa r e n t s

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i ntroduc ti on Seeing in Detail


on e The Monumental Image


two Science and the Celestial


thr ee Narrative Luxury


four Uncertain Passages


fi v e Details of Absence


si x Vertical Light


sev en Horizon Lines


epi log ue The Insignificant Detail




Selected Bibliography




Illustration Credits

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acknowledgm en ts this boo k h a s been written in many landscapes and shaped by many people. I am especially grateful to Alex Nemerov. Without his encouragement of this project from its earliest inception and his critical guidance throughout all these years, it would not have been realized. At Yale I have had exceptional mentors and colleagues. I have learned a tremendous amount about landscape painting and about the nineteenth century from Tim Barringer; our discussions in front of works of art have provided a model of how to look at and articulate the visual. Carol Armstrong’s support of this project has been vital to imagining and realizing its later development. From Ned Cooke, I have learned to consider the material world of objects and environment more deeply and rigorously. Conversations with Sally Promey about method and writing always came at crucial moments. My research on Church began in earnest at the Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York. Valerie Balint, Evelyn Trebilcock, and Ida Brier welcomed me into Church’s home to pore over the written materials there. They patiently indulged my requests to look at everything and were wonderful guides to the collection and landscape. I am particularly grateful to Valerie Balint as well as Ronna Dixson of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for their help with images during the final stages of preparing the manuscript. The support of many institutions and foundations have made this book possible. A summer in Giverny, France, supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, provided an ideal environment in which to begin to write, think, and wander. I am particularly grateful to the director of the program, Veerle Thielemans, and to Winfried Fluck and Margaretta Lovell, who each offered valuable responses to my work. The Wyeth Foundation supported a year-long fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I am grateful to Bill Truettner and Eleanor Jones Harvey for serving as my advisers and for their wisdom and generosity, to Amelia Goerlitz and the late Cynthia Mills for their guidance of the fellowship program, and to the other fellows in residence that year, with whom I have continued to talk in the years since, including Marie-Stéphanie Delamaire, Melody Barnett Deusner, Adam Greenhalgh, Wendy Ikemoto, Asma Naeem, Prudence Peiffer, Emily Scott, Riccardo Venturi, and Glenn Willumson. A Junior Fellowship in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks was critical to looking beyond Church’s painted landscapes and developing my arguments about Olana. I am especially grateful to John Beardsley for his engagement with that material. While in Washington, discussions about Church with Franklin Kelly were crucial to the evolution of the project. My thanks go also to Gerald Carr for his responses to my papers on Church delivered in Washington and in Dallas. I am deeply indebted to all the Church scholars who have preceded me.


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Postdoctoral fellowships have been essential in reimagining the book. I am enormously grateful to David Lubin, mentor and friend, with whom I taught a course on American art at Wake Forest University and whose ways of looking at works of art have influenced my own. My time spent at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, “living” with The Andes of Ecuador, shaped my ideas about Church’s paintings. I am thankful to Allison Slaby and Allison Perkins for supporting my curatorial work based on that painting and for their help in realizing the event that presented the picture to fifteen hundred new freshmen armed with opera glasses. It was a spectacle that I think would have delighted the artist. In Berlin, while at the John F. Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerikastudien at the Freie Universität, I was privileged to spend time with many terrific scholars, including Alan Wallach, Angela Miller, Charlotte Klonk, and Laura Bieger; I am particularly grateful to Winfried Fluck for welcoming me as a research fellow in the Department of Cultural Studies and for all the productive conversations that followed. An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University allowed me to teach from my interests and advance the book further. I am thankful to my students and colleagues there, especially Patricia Rubin, Robert Slifkin, and Edward Sullivan. An earlier version of chapter 5 appeared in Art History and benefited from the astute comments and questions of Sarah Monks and David Peters Corbett, who also provided invaluable feedback on other parts of the project. Aspects of my argument centered on The Heart of the Andes were published in the Art Bulletin and profited greatly from the responses of the two anonymous reviewers as well as Karen Lang and Fronia Simpson. I am grateful to Michelle Komie for her interest in the book and for her stewardship of the manuscript, together with Katherine Boller, at Yale University Press. I have been privileged to work with a wonderful group of people there, including Heidi Downey, Amy Canonico, Mary Mayer, Tamara Schechter, and Elma Sanders. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers who read the first manuscript with care and rigor and whose insights, criticisms, queries, and ideas have improved it in ways both large and small. Having these two perspectives allowed me to chart my own argument more clearly. The preparation of the images for this book was supported by a grant from the A. Whitney Griswold Faculty Research Fund at Yale University, and its publication was supported by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. I am grateful to my research assistant, Nicole Bass, whose many hours of labor ensured that this book about details was, in fact, filled with details. In regard to details, I must thank Sarah Cash, who personally oversaw the photography of parts of Niagara during a particularly difficult moment at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Over the years, my ideas have been shaped, challenged, and refined by many people—colleagues, friends, and teachers. I would like to thank Martin Berger,


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Wanda Corn, Jay Curley, John Davis, Miguel de Baca, Gillian Forrester, Ellery Foutch, Jennifer Greenhill, Kristen Gresh, Michael Hatt, Guy Jordan, David Joselit, David Kermani, Ethan Lasser, Pamela Lee, Michael Leja, Alex Mann, Morna O’Neill, Jennifer Roberts, Elizabeth Twitchell, David Ward, Bryan Wolf, and Christopher Wood. This book is dedicated to my parents—for my mother, with memories of those early years of fast walking from museum to museum, and for my father, who will always be my best reader. And, lastly, I must thank those closest to me, Asher and Noah, for all the pleasures of daily life.


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Seeing in Detail “ w h y do prec is ely these objects which we behold make a world?”1 Henry David Thoreau asks this question in Walden while observing the landscape around his cabin in the woods. The attempt to reconcile part and whole, the visible and the vast, is also the key issue for Thoreau’s contemporary, the landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900). Both men struggled to integrate science and belief, the minutiae of observable nature and the immensity of God’s nature. In August 1851, three years before the publication of Walden, Thoreau wrote in his journal, “I fear that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct & scientific—That in exchange for views as wide as heaven’s cope I am being narrowed down to the field of the microscope—I see details not wholes nor the shadow of the whole. I count some parts, & say ‘I know.’ ”2 Frederic Church’s works reveal the difficulty, or even impossibility, of both seeing “precisely these objects” and saying “I know.” Nineteenth-century viewers expected landscape paintings to balance precision and generality, detail and effect, but Church’s works often seemed to upset this balance, especially as his career progressed. While The Andes of Ecuador (1855; see fig. 16) encompasses its details under the sun’s celestial light and Niagara (1857; see fig. 2) marshals its elements toward a unified effect, The Heart of the Andes (1859; see fig. 22) dizzies with a proliferation of botanical specimens. Later paintings seem to withhold narrative details: The Icebergs (1861; see fig. 39) unsettles with its arctic desolation, and Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica (1867; see fig. 58) sets the stage for allegory but spotlights emptiness. One of Church’s last major works, El Khasné, Petra (1874; see fig. 72), depicts a site in the Holy Land but blocks the expected signs of spiritual transcendence. As his success waned in the 1870s, Church switched media: he designed Olana, his house and 250 acres of picturesque grounds on the Hudson River (see figs. 86–92). “I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint,” he wrote to a friend.3 Olana represents both a retreat from the world and an attempt to create a new one. The artist’s works elicited celebratory, as well as conflicted, responses at mid-century. Did Church’s scientific proclivities, his “avidity to gather new and strange facts,” disrupt his ability to offer a broader, allegorical message?4 “Study the foreground of a Church,” one critic wrote, reflecting on the artist’s career shortly after his death in 1900, “and you will find a constant struggle between the desire to say everything and to say also the large and appealing thing.”5 Such a “struggle,”

Detail of f i g u r e 22


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in Church’s paintings and also in critical responses to them, raises questions about the role of detail in a work of art during the nineteenth century. Church’s paintings visualize and historicize a fundamental shift in representation, one that is part of a broader epistemological transition from knowledge to information during this period. While the term “knowledge” implied the pursuit of a unifying structure in the nineteenth century, “information”—a word more commonly used as the century progressed—made no such promises.6 A system of representation based on the containment of details became marked instead by discontinuity and difference. Like Thoreau’s writing, Church’s landscapes are poised between these paradigms. While embracing the microscopic, both writer and painter find that such details do not necessarily “make a world.” Frederic Church’s landscapes compellingly represent the problems and possibilities of seeing and knowing in a culture of detail. I began with a simple question. Standing in front of The Heart of the Andes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wondered, why is this painting so detailed? This was the first word that came to mind when looking at the picture. It was also the term—as adjective or noun—that I overheard again and again in the Met’s gallery: exclamations over the “detailed” canvas; exhortations to fellow viewers to look at the “details.” These are the terms that, without fail, appeared in criticism from the period as well as in more recent scholarship about the artist. And yet for all its ubiquity, there was no account of what detail might mean. How does it work in The Heart of the Andes and in other paintings by Church? How was it defined in the nineteenth century? And, to return to the viewing experience itself, what does it mean to see a work of art “in detail,” to use yet another version of the word? Lastly, I wondered how writing about seeing in detail might take form. What should be immediately clear, and even troubling, is how quickly that “simple” question becomes complicated. “Detail,” “detailed,” “in detail”—the terms may have the same root, but they can be defined quite differently. When we refer to “a detail” we usually mean a specific part of a whole; “detailed” describes the overall impression of this specificity; “in detail” connotes the act of looking at these parts. The point here is not an exercise in semantics but rather an attempt to acknowledge, right away, how the different forms of a single term shift from the marking of spatial and material borders (a piece, a whole), to a description of the visual field within those borders, to the visual process itself. Finally, “detail”—used without an article—can signify the concept more broadly, potentially engaging all of the other meanings of the term. I move between these uses, but in many ways this book is most about “seeing in detail”—to rewrite a phrase borrowed from Naomi Schor, whose Reading in Detail was essential to this project.7 How we look at an object produces how an object looks. Seeing precedes describing. “The detail,”


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states Georges Didi-Huberman, another author on whom I rely for a theorization of the concept, “poses one question above all others: where to look from?”8 With detail, “stable conceptual meaning seems to slip from our grasp,” writes Daniel Arasse in Le détail: Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture, the only book that takes as its focus the problem of detail in works of art. “But it is also this condensation of different meanings that makes the term effective for understanding the rich complexity of relationships that are at play in front of and within the painting.”9 How can one begin to define a detail “within” a work of art, and how is this related to the viewer’s experience “in front of ” that work? A detail can be considered as a semiotic “unit” of visual language. It is, by nature, contradictory; it can delineate difference or emphasize unity. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, detail connotes an “attention to particulars.” It is, in relation to art, “a minute or subordinate part of a building, sculpture, or painting, as distinct from the larger portions or the general conception.” Yet details are also “the particulars or items of any whole considered collectively.”10 A detail contributes to a whole while remaining distinct from it. In a sense, the detail always points away from itself to something else—to other parts of a picture, to the work of art as a whole. Perhaps we cannot even see what the detail gestures to. This point is best expressed by considering image reproduction in the discipline of art history. When a work of art is cropped and reproduced as a “detail” (as always indicated in a caption), we understand this in two ways: here is a piece, perhaps even magnified, of something larger and, secondly, what we see here is not everything—the detail signifies that there is much that we are not seeing. It draws us in to a privileged space of specificity while simultaneously indicating a visual realm that is beyond its borders. This is the detail as a cut, following its etymological root from the French détailler, from tailler, meaning “to cut.” For the nineteenth-century American viewer, details in a landscape painting did a certain pictorial work. They were understood to be small in scale and visually compelling, leading the eye into the foreground and becoming the first points of contact with the spectator. They were associated with the minute, the particular, and the microscopic, and were juxtaposed against a notion often described as “effect,” which was equated with generality, union, and harmony, even a sense of the sublime. “Effect,” in the period, was not simply a noun waiting to be shaped by an adjective (as in the “detailed effect” that I have just discussed), but rather an idea in and of itself, one indicative of the eventual unification of those foreground details and the suppression of their difference. The aim in landscape painting was, in fact, to avoid a “detailed effect” while providing an “effect” in which details were forgotten (one might even say repressed) and only a singular impression of harmony remained. The seventeenth-century canvases of Claude Lorrain still provided the basis for conceptualizing and critiquing a landscape composition:

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a tripartite structure consisting of a darkened but detailed foreground, a strongly lit middle distance, and a background of warm, inviting light.11 Trees in the foreground, or another type of repoussoir object, frame the scene and push the eye into deeper space. Such a visual course had a conceptual correspondence: the small and specific aspects of nature or narrative should yield to a greater wholeness inherent in the natural world and reflective of the divine. “The details, the prose of nature he should omit,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Art” (1841), referring to the landscape painter, and thus a work of art should “give us only the spirit and splendor.”12 Even with such “prose” present, most critics and viewers expected landscape paintings to provoke higher associations. Thus the pictorial detail had a specific cultural, even religious, obligation: to move the eye from the minute elements of nature to a larger idea of Nature with all its attendant associations with unity and divinity. Church’s paintings presented a challenge to this structure, a challenge that was part of a wider critical debate during the mid- to late nineteenth century in the United States.13 If natural details could distinguish landscape painting as a genre, they could also threaten to overwhelm “Nature” as an idea or allegory. Church’s canvases often seemed to be more invested in the “distinct and scientific” as a model of representation, a model that raised issues of mimesis and reproduction that I will particularly address in chapter 1. In his Book of the Artists (1867), Henry Tuckerman noted that Church “goes to nature, not so much with the tenderness of a lover or the awe of a worshipper, as with the determination, the intelligence, the patient intrepidity of a student; he is keenly on the watch for facts, and resolute in their transfer to art.”14 G. W. Sheldon, the author of American Painters, lamented that Church’s pictures neglected “the higher and spiritual verities of Nature” that had traditionally defined landscape painting. Although the artist’s works were all “well known” and “exceedingly popular,” Sheldon pointed to the elaboration of detail as their clear fault: “It is scarcely necessary to stop here and explain what their principal defect is, because, by this time, that defect must have been recognized by almost every intelligent American lover of art. It consists in the elaboration of details at the expense of the unity and force of sentiment.” Writing in 1881, Sheldon assumes that his readers, “by this time,” already understand this.15 As Thoreau’s journal entry reveals, a tension was emerging at mid-century between “the field of the microscope” and an expansive vision from above—those “views as wide as heaven’s cope.” While the whole connotes a spiritual harmony, the detail becomes a synonym for the scientific. This is a critical new way of conceiving of detail, one that Church’s works, and especially The Heart of the Andes, engages. His paintings increasingly privilege a scientific realism over allegorical structure. Paint is still conceived of in a traditional manner, as a means to represent the world, rather than to replicate optical experience. Paint is meant to be


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forgotten, a mere mediator between icon and index, between thought and thing. This could be juxtaposed with the work of Church’s contemporary George Inness who—according to Rachael DeLue’s account—“enjoined the beholder to simultaneously forget and feel his pictures, to be in them, dreamily but to constantly bump up against their strange and disfigured motifs.” Central to her reconsideration of the painter is the “disfiguration” of landscape conventions and even the surface of the canvas itself.16 If Inness creates a disruptive viewing experience by calling attention to the painted surface, Church does so through an elaboration of detail, a kind of excess of realism.17 Each detail, each identifiable part of the landscape, refuses to dissolve into paint or effect. Detail can be approached in pictorial, cultural, and scientific terms. I also understand it as an aspect of, or a challenge to, narrative.18 In what ways do Church’s paintings move our eyes through the canvas to create a story? How do details contribute to or undermine the story’s intelligibility? How does a picture suggest what is significant and what is insignificant in such a narrative, and what are the cultural norms that define the very ideas of “significance” and “insignificance”? Such questions will be particularly important to the discussion of The Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs in chapters 3 and 4. Too many “underplots” could threaten to “overpower the main story” of a landscape painting, one critic claimed, “but story there must be, or we have no landscape.”19 I have found Alex Woloch’s arguments about the destabilizing effect of minor characters—“too many people” creating a “thickness of narrative”—in realist novels very useful in thinking through these questions. Such novels, similar to Church’s paintings, propose an “empiricist aesthetic” that maps a “tension between integration and excess.” While Woloch does not directly contend with the “detail,” he does state, in a two-page footnote, that it is “central to discussions of realism because it bears directly on the tensions between totality and particularity, or metaphor and facticity.” He also links this tension to problems of social inclusion.20 While this issue is not central to my project, the detail does assume class connotations in period criticism and thus invites the appropriation—or rejection—of works of art based on such designations. It is Baudelaire, in “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863), who best expresses a fear of the tyranny of details. “An artist with a perfect sense of form but one accustomed to relying above all on his memory and his imagination will find himself at the mercy of a riot of details all clamoring for justice with the fury of a mob in love with absolute equality. All justice is trampled under foot; all harmony sacrificed and destroyed; many a trifle assumes vast proportions; many a triviality usurps the attention. The more our artist turns an impartial eye on detail, the greater is the state of anarchy.”21 For Baudelaire, the problem is one of “seeing all.” Unity is destroyed; pictorial and narrative (and social) hierarchy vanishes; anarchy ensues.

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Approaching detail through these categories—pictorial, cultural, scientific, narrative—enables a more precise material and theoretical consideration. My sense of detail has been shaped by the work of Naomi Schor and Daniel Arasse.22 Schor summarizes the reception of detail at the beginning of her book Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine: “As any historian of ideas knows, the detail has until very recently been viewed in the West with suspicion if not downright hostility.” The “rise of the detail,” she argues, is bound up with the decline of classicism and the birth of realism while being irreducible to that story. Her “feminist archaeology” of detail is argued through a deeply historical and textual analysis of works of literature and criticism. Although I disagree with her contention that detail is always gendered feminine, the story she tells and the way she tells it—the way she reads—has been crucial to the story I will try to tell.23 If Schor’s work has provided a way of reading, Arasse’s work has provided a way of seeing. For Arasse, the art historian is always trying to pacify detail. “A detail is shocking,” he writes.24 “The status of detail is uncertain in painting because the detail disrupts.”25 To search for such “disruptions” is what interests Arasse, and while this can lead to a sense of the art historian as detective at times, the way in which he reads against the grain moves his analyses far from the normative preferences of iconography. While I am concerned with the nineteenth century, Arasse’s text largely considers the shift in the ontological status of detail in the period from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, from a close and celebrated connection to mimesis in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with roots in classicism, to a desire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to control the “digressive” capacity of details. Critics faulted the “accumulation of precise details” and advised viewers to avoid standing too close to paintings. Such “intimacy” is, for Arasse, essential to the task of art history. His “l’histoire de près”—also formulated as “l’histoire rapprochée”—is a method of close looking, one that, in fact, reveals the true impossibility of producing “a history of detail.”26 “The detail is the moment that becomes an event in the picture, that lures the eye and disrupts its course. This diversion, although it may be fatal to ‘unity,’ although the picture risks coming apart and the eye losing its way, is also where the plaisir of the picture becomes the jouissance of painting.”27 Pleasure becomes a key term—not something to be considered apart from or opposed to inquiry but as a force through which to see and interpret the unexpected. Detail seems so elemental as to be easily taken for granted, and yet it eludes easy definition, demanding an attempt at classification that never seems entirely satisfactory. A compelling literary analogy might be the “Cetology” chapter of Moby Dick (1851)—a novel that can be read as an epic struggle with detail. Ishmael begins by proclaiming that “soon we shall be lost in [the sea’s] unshored, harborless immensities,” where the Pequod will encounter that great leviathan. To prevent


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such a loss—of orientation and life, but also of narrative clarity and the very meaning of language—he attempts “the classification of the constituents of a chaos.” Cetology is then discussed at length.28 “There is always the danger,” Naomi Schor cautions, “that to write of the detail is to become lost in it.”29 Melville’s novel— its prose and structure—takes this risk, arguably making it the very theme of the book. Moby Dick was famously panned by critics, but a few praised the “wondrous elaborateness of detail” and “the immense amount of reliable information.”30 “To a less gifted author,” another critic wrote, such apparent discursiveness “would inevitably have proved fatal. He has not only deftly avoided their dangers, but made them an element of great power.”31 The problematic status of detail shaped the critical and popular reception of art in nineteenth-century America. Frederic Church’s paintings provide the richest and most sustained engagement with this issue. His landscapes were also cultural phenomena. Born in 1826, the son of a wealthy Hartford, Connecticut, businessman, Frederic Church was the first pupil of Thomas Cole, whose works inaugurated a new style of American painting. Following this influential apprenticeship, Church set up his studio in New York City and quickly found success. At age twenty-two, he became one of the youngest artists ever elected as a full member of the prestigious National Academy of Design. But instead of sending his major canvases— works like Niagara, The Heart of the Andes, and The Icebergs—to the academy’s annual exhibition, he chose to display them alone, for an admission fee, attracting crowds of viewers as these “Great Pictures” toured the United States and crossed the Atlantic.32 Newspapers speculated on the painter’s studio production, reported on his wide-ranging travels, and reviewed his exhibitions. Frederic Church, as one modern critic has argued, was “the nation’s first artistic celebrity.”33 Unlike many of his compatriots, Church did not go to Europe as a young man. He did not embark on the Grand Tour of European capitals or study in one of the esteemed academies. Instead, in 1853, when he was twenty-seven, the painter followed the path of scientists, journeying through Ecuador and Colombia for nearly seven months, inspired by the travels of the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who had spent five years exploring South America from 1799 to 1804, as well as those of Charles Darwin, whose voyages on the Beagle (1831–36) were also indebted to Humboldt. Upon his return, Church painted his largest and most ambitious canvas to date, The Andes of Ecuador (1855). A critic for Harper’s Weekly praised the picture for its unified effect, by which “all detail, all shape [was] lost in the vastness of the gorges.”34 The success of The Andes of Ecuador would give Church aesthetic freedom—he would no longer have to rely solely on commissions or patrons and their specific demands. In 1857, he returned to the Andes for a shorter trip and two years later produced The Heart of the Andes, arguably the most famous

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painting in mid-nineteenth-century America. In the next decade he would travel to the Arctic, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and, finally, Europe. At the height of his fame, his paintings commanded record prices, and his exhibitions mustered long lines. But as the century continued, his success dwindled. Church’s own pupil, William James Stillman, would later fault his teacher for a blinding “love of facts and detail.”35 The canvases were too scientific. “It is not enough that his ferns and climbers should be recognized by the tropical botanist,” Stillman declared.36 Nature should be a metaphor for something larger than itself. Details in Church’s paintings were often described as products of the artist’s “labor.” Scientific American, a weekly newspaper founded in 1846, praised The Heart of the Andes as a model of “study and labor, both in preparation and execution.”37 In The Art-Idea (1864), the influential critic James Jackson Jarves faulted Church’s painting (and Albert Bierstadt’s The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak) for their evident “labor-trail.”38 George Inness abandoned his earlier more mimetic style of painting, having found by the 1870s that “elaborateness in detail, did not gain me meaning. A part carefully finished, my forces were exhausted. I could not sustain it everywhere.”39 But Church seems to have found this mode of painting to be exhilarating and, for a time, so too did critics. As Eleanor Jones Harvey has argued, the question of “finish” was seen in both aesthetic and cultural terms during the period, becoming “a potent metaphor for the sophistication of America’s citizens as well as its art” and “linked directly to the artist’s level of industry.”40 The Reverend Louis Legrand Noble, in his pamphlet written to accompany The Heart of the Andes and sold at the painting’s exhibitions, described its mountains as “miracles of elemental labor” and its trees as “prodigies of labor.” In fact, in all the details Noble finds the evidence of industry: “This painted vale with its attending heights, has the tale of that labor written in the thousand lines, graved in the countless fissures, frescoed in the stains and dyes, cut in the keen edges, sculptured in the round masses. Everywhere you see the footprints and marks of the busy, toiling elements.”41 Noble constructs a metaphor of mixed media to discuss a work of oil on canvas. As materially evocative as this description is, Church’s paintings are, on the whole, characterized by remarkably smooth surfaces, surfaces that efface such material “footprints and marks.” The visible building up of pigment is done sparingly and only in discrete (yet significant) moments; traces of brushwork, when apparent at all, tend to adopt representational value (for instance, as the striations of a rock or the peeling bark of a tree) rather than serving as self-reflexive indicators of the artistic process. What such references to labor in critical accounts indicate, I would argue, is the labor of seeing Church’s painting. The purpose of this project is to understand the visual demands Church’s canvases make and the specific cultural context to which they respond and from which they emerge. As Albert Ten Eyck Gardner wrote in 1945 about The Heart


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of the Andes in one of the first modern reevaluations of the artist: “An examination of the painting today leads one to muse upon the possibility that there was something behind its popularity which is now completely lacking.”42 To look closely at these pictures is to ask what history may have erased or diminished. Writing about Church’s later works in 1875, Henry James asserted that there was “nothing that is a better proof of the essential impotence of criticism, in the last resort, than Mr. Church’s pictures.” One can’t say what one means about them; the common critical formulas are too inflexible. It would be the part of wisdom perhaps to attempt and to desire to say nothing; simply to leave them to their tranquil destiny, which is apparently very honorable and comfortable. If you praise them very highly, you say more than you mean, if you denounce them, if, in vulgar parlance, you sniff at them, you say less. It is the kind of art which seems perpetually skirting the edge of something worse than itself, like a woman with a taste for florid ornaments who should dress herself in a way to make quiet people stare, and yet who should be really a very reputable person. As we looked at Mr. Church’s velvety vistas and gem-like vegetation, at Goupil’s, we felt honestly sorry that there was any necessity in this weary world for taking upon one’s self to be a critic, for deeming it essential to a proper self-respect to be analytical. Why not accept this lovely tropic scene as a very pretty picture, and have done with it?43 James resists engaging with Church’s pictures, choosing instead to question the very efficacy of criticism in the face of such “lovely” works. The risk was too great. One might say too much, or not enough. He also proposes a yet more troubling aspect of detail: embarrassment. Here is detail, in 1875, as feminized ornamentation, as an excess that offends taste and puts morality into question, as what Naomi Schor has called “the refuse of aesthetic verisimilitude.”44 Church’s works were dismissed with greater frequency during this period using related terms; they were judged to be theatrical, loud, decadent, too elaborate, or simply—merely—beautiful. But James does not exactly dismiss Church. The novelist was all too aware of the risks of “excessive interpretation.”45 In his preface to the novella In the Cage, which Schor cites, James states: “My central spirit, in the anecdote, is, for verisimilitude, I grant, too ardent a focus of divination; but without this excess the phenomena detailed would have lacked their principle of cohesion.”46 The author here defends his own use of detail, as “anecdote” and “divination.” Such

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“excess”—which his sentence itself displays—is necessary, he claims, to achieve cohesion. James and Church share a commitment to detail in the name of “verisimilitude.” Excess becomes a consequence of such a (realist) project while an “anxious detailism, preoccupied with ensuring its own legitimacy,” characterizes the endeavor.47 James’s words about Church’s paintings reveal an anxiety about the nature of detail and its threats to semantic and visual propriety. His review—or rather his protestations against the possibilities of interpretation—also points to a shift in opinion, one that would last for almost a century until Church’s works began to be discovered and discussed again. These highly detailed landscapes came to represent, as the nineteenth century continued, “the kind of art which seems perpetually skirting the edge of something worse than itself.” Such pictures became identified as “popular” art, in the negative sense. Viewers might loudly proclaim their delight, but critics grew more suspicious of a “melo-dramatic effect”48 or “Arabian Nights’ Entertainment” that would be “the favorite with a large class.”49 Crowded galleries could signify “low” art; excessive detail might be a sign of aesthetic vulgarity. Church’s canvases began to be viewed with a sense of embarrassment, even disgust. By the turn of the century, the artist was largely ignored, as if it were best to say nothing.50 Church’s works have been most canonically interpreted in terms of national identity; my aim is to foreground the visual and epistemological rather than the political or ideological. This is not to claim that these paintings do not engage with the latter terms in significant and complex ways. Rather, it is to worry about the limitations that an ideological model can pose. “To say that landscape painting is fundamentally or essentially an expression of ideology,” Michael Gaudio warns, “runs the risk of losing the landscape itself.”51 The narrative often invoked to explain Church’s paintings frames them as expressions of New World ambitions and democratic optimism. This is the argument made by David Huntington, who almost single-handedly resurrected the artist’s reputation with his 1960 Yale dissertation and his successful efforts to preserve Olana. Huntington characterizes the artist’s “great landscapes” as “the very icons of Manifest Destiny. . . . Any major ‘Church’ can be interpreted accordingly, even one of an Old World subject.”52 The paintings’ nationalist rhetoric and democratic intelligibility have remained the fundamental assumptions for all subsequent monographs, including those by Franklin Kelly, Gerald Carr, and John Howat.53 Barbara Novak, John Wilmerding, Kevin Avery, Eleanor Jones Harvey, and Katherine Manthorne have also done particularly foundational work on the artist.54 I am deeply indebted to all of these scholars, even when departing from some of their claims. In her reconceptualization of nineteenth-century landscape paintings as a complex part of nation building, Angela Miller argues that Church’s pictures display


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a “synecdochic nationalism” where part stands for whole and the local becomes the national. This is, in many ways, an argument about detail and effect, and served as an essential prompt to my own inquiry.55 John Davis and Bryan Wolf have each offered models for the sustained, critical attention to individual works by Church while multi-author texts such as Landscape and Power and Landscape Theory have provided important paradigms through which to consider the broader conceptual stakes.56 Following W. J. T. Mitchell, I consider landscape not as a “genre” but as a “medium,” and as the most powerful visual mode of expression in nineteenthcentury America.57 The concept of medium offers a connection to artistic practice, to the natural world, to materials used and spaces transformed. Barbara Novak memorably described Frederic Church as “the grand synthesizer” in her pioneering book Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825–1875 (1980). “His art can be seen only in terms of sublime unities,” she concludes. But more than any other scholar of American landscape painting, she is attentive to the problem of detail in nineteenth-century aesthetics.58 The cover image for her 1971 article for Art in America, “Grand Opera and the Small Still Voice,” reflects these considerations visually (and likely unintentionally) through a detail of dense tropical plants and deep shadows from The Heart of the Andes (fig. 1). The eye is drawn in, discovering more details, each smaller and more precise. This is not an image of the “sublime unities” and operatic light that Novak ultimately associates with Church’s canvases, and she does briefly consider a more complicated visual model at work in his paintings: a “fundamental dialectic” between detail and whole. She compares this to Jackson Pollock, “whose work raises somewhat similar questions of detail, effect and ambition,” before dropping an even more provocative comparison into parentheses. “(Indeed Abstract Expressionism in its flirtation with the idea of a grand style—in which the idea of abstraction is now substituted for the idea of nature—is the locus of a similar struggle between indigenous ambitions and European conventions.)”59 Her parenthetical statement, a first and last thought on the issue, appears like Church’s detail on the cover: striking, expansive, and incomplete. I will not be arguing for explicit linkages between Church and Pollock, or for Church as a modernist or a proto-abstractionist. But I am invested in pursuing those “questions of detail, effect and ambition” as well as that “struggle” to which Novak refers. These are vital issues, and I believe that Church’s landscapes provide the most compelling means to explore them, precisely because the paintings constantly invite us to offer both parenthetical “flirtations” and “grand” conclusions. For Thomas Cole, a landscape painting should be the result of time “draw[ing] a veil over the common details, the unessential parts” that the artist encountered in the natural world.60 Perceptual experience is here, as Angela Miller argues,

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fi g u r e 1 Originally published in Art in America, March– April 1971, cover. Courtesy BMP Media Holdings, LLC.

“disciplined into a language of meaning that was communally shared.”61 Cole’s landscapes deliver an allegorical message: nature is the stage upon which man acts and God judges. But Church dismantles this stage; his details are more botanical than biblical, more subjective than symbolic. His paintings suggest a representational shift that finds expression in literature from the period as well. Carol Christ sees


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a similar shift in Victorian poets as they depart from their Romantic predecessors. Poets like Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Gerard Manley Hopkins—all Church’s contemporaries—contend with “the problem of transcending the particular.” By the Victorian period, Christ argues, “the sense of the particularity of experience and the disintegration of belief in the reality of universals had increased to such an extent that poets were forced to develop new aesthetics to deal with this particularity and its relationship to art’s universality.” These artists were attempting to communicate a sense of universal order, but they do this through a focus on particularity—“the finer optic.”62 It is also at mid-century when, as Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison have argued, the modern sense of objectivity arose. An “unprejudiced blind sight” became the privileged mode of scientific vision, producing images not of idealized forms but of “asymmetrical individuality.”63 I will be discussing what I call “a culture of detail.” This notion emerged from Church’s paintings and led me to consider the dialectic between knowledge and information within this culture. Thomas Richards’s book The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire provided an excellent model. Richards traces the epistemological shift in Victorian culture from an assumption of the “superintending unity of knowledge”—the belief that “all knowledge in the world fell into a great standing order”—to a realization by the end of the century that achieving such “comprehensive knowledge” was “easier said than done.” His subject is nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British literature, and his contention is that these texts reveal an obsession with the control of knowledge bound up with the imperial project. In these pages the empire is “united not by force but by information.” The faith that facts would add up to knowledge—that there could be such a thing as “one great system of knowledge” in the tradition of Leibniz, Kant, Humboldt, and Romanticism—was gradually abandoned.64 Thus, “by 1900 not even the librarians at the British Museum seriously believed they would be able to chip away at this backlog of knowledge.”65 Richards provides an epistemological paradigm through which I will consider the conflicted place of detail and the aesthetics of painting during a period of historical and cultural transformation. Information claimed no particular beginning and promised no end. The 1857 edition of Webster’s dictionary gives the first definition of “information” as “Intelligence: notice, news or advice communicated by word or writing.”66 The term became associated with accumulation and communication. In the mid- to late nineteenth century, compound forms of the word began appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary, among them: “information bureau” (1869), “information agent” (1871), “information gap” (1891), and “information gathering” (1893). For the last term, the Oxford dictionary cites W. G. Collingwood’s The Life and Work of John Ruskin: “The intelligent analysis of words and thoughts and feelings of great authors, as opposed to . . . superficial information-gathering.”67 By the end of the century,

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“information” had assumed an increasingly random, dispersed, and superficial connotation.68 The “culture” of detail that I consider is undoubtedly Western and, more specifically, Anglo-American. While greater investigations of detail in other contexts could surely be undertaken (and have already been done, in the case of Arasse), I have limited myself here to an American artist who traveled widely but worked within a decidedly Anglo-American context. This is one reason that I have adopted critical models proposed by scholars of the Victorian period. I find the arguments by scholars such as Richards and Christ to be convincing and also particularly applicable to Church’s work. While I do not mean to collapse the American nineteenth century into a mere subset of the British period, there is undoubtedly a close connection between the two nations. In the realm of art and aesthetic theory, Americans were deeply influenced by the British. Church looked at Turner; he read Ruskin and Reynolds. He repeatedly sent his canvases across the ocean for display and eagerly sought the approval of English critics.69 My aim is to illuminate the paintings’ aesthetic, historical, and cultural specificity while avoiding a narrative of American exceptionalism. Church was unarguably patriotic; some of his pictures have explicitly nationalist aims and many others have national connotations. These distinctions are sometimes productive, but more often they are limiting. David Huntington seems to draw a bright line between nationalism and aesthetic originality, writing that Church “was an American, but not a revolutionary.”70 While I do not think that arguing for Church as a revolutionary would be particularly productive—in the same way that calling him a modernist would not really tell us anything—I do want to focus on the artist’s means of representation. When do details complicate a larger narrative and how do they acquire, or even resist, meaning? The purpose of this book is to take detail seriously: as a key component of Church’s visual language, as a defining aspect of nineteenth-century American culture, and as a concept fundamental to the practice of art history. Each of the following chapters concentrates on one or two of Frederic Church’s works in order to contend with the meaning of detail. Such a focused approach will, I hope, illuminate broader cultural shifts while remaining invested in fundamentally visual, and art historical, questions. This is by no means a comprehensive monograph. While the works at the core of this study span Church’s career and reflect his major voyages, I have selected images that, above all, most provocatively engage with the question of detail and that best express its changing status during the second half of the nineteenth century. Included here are Church’s most popular pictures, later paintings that were in differing ways more private, and his longest and most extensive artistic project that engaged a new sense of the “medium” of landscape. Through these landscapes, the book traces a movement away from a


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more synthetic model of painting that ends with Olana, a work of art made out of the physical environment. Chapter 1 focuses on Church’s Niagara. In 1857, a year of increasing sectional tensions, the painting was appropriated as a model of unity, one based on the assimilation of details. Such assimilation also connects the painting to a “monumental” form of history predicated on forgetting, one that differs from an emerging historical discourse at the time that privileged memory and conceived of the past through the particularities of geography. The canvas became enormously popular, its printed reproductions a staple of middle-class parlors and a favorite wedding gift. The work’s wide dissemination thus raised the issue of the relationship between aesthetics and class. Was popularity and reproducibility anathema to “high” art? In the second chapter, I argue that two paintings produced after Church’s trips to South America represent two models of visualizing and comprehending the natural world. While The Andes of Ecuador reflects Humboldt’s cosmology, The Heart of the Andes is a Darwinian painting, although Church undoubtedly intended quite the opposite effect. Details compete for attention and project a sense of exuberant excess. The Heart of the Andes is the product of the increasingly unstable relationship between faith and science at mid-century, and particularly in 1859, the year that The Origin of Species was published.71 Humboldt’s concept of nature—what he called “one great whole animated by the breath of life”—would come to seem like a beautiful, but impossible, vision.72 The third chapter explores how details in The Heart of the Andes demand a different way of seeing, exemplified by scanning across the canvas with opera glasses. Isolating details with their opera glasses, and so isolating themselves from other spectators, viewers undertook an intensely subjective and unstructured act, an act of looking marked by both pleasure and pain. The painting also produced a surprising number of texts; critics and writers, among them Louis Legrand Noble, Theodore Winthrop, and Mark Twain, attempted to translate the visual into the textual but in doing so they confront the fundamental difference between viewing and interpreting. The question of excess presents a narrative dilemma for Winthrop and Noble. What if details did not add up to that “large and appealing thing”? Twain’s engagement with the painting’s details provides a model for thinking about the work of art, one that challenges the implicit assumption that seeing in greater detail leads to greater knowledge. The Heart of the Andes best expresses the close association between the detail and the material world during this period when modern consumer culture was developing in the United States. Exhibited on Broadway in the shopping district of lower Manhattan, Church’s painting bears comparison to the new department store window with its invitation to look at so many “things.” The very word “detail” was first adopted in the context of commodity exchange, used in the phrase en détail, or

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“by piece,” as opposed to en gros, meaning “in the gross” or “wholesale.”73 As arguably the most popular painting in mid-nineteenth-century America—one reviewer declaring it “the inauguration of a new art epoch”74—this picture demands a more extended consideration across two chapters. As the subject of immense linguistic production, The Heart of the Andes provides the opportunity to think through questions of the relationship between image and text, visual and verbal language. The fourth and fifth chapters each focus on a painting that struggles with or withholds details. The Icebergs promises the sublime but instead diagrams the problems of representing transcendence through detail. Church’s later insertion of a broken ship’s mast may gesture to many meanings—scientific, mythological, religious, and political—but it refuses to resolve into one. This addition, intended to address the painting’s lack of narrative direction, in fact makes the picture more boldly unclear. As with The Heart of the Andes, texts attempt to bring form and structure to such uncertainty; metaphor is unleashed in an effort to animate, or compensate for, the expanses of white ice—all that white paint. Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica highlights the absence of symbolic cues. The picture is constructed around a spot-lit part of the foreground and is characterized, like The Heart of the Andes, by scientific precision. The picture’s two most striking features—detail and absence—are intimately related to the Jamaican landscape itself, which was marked by both lush botanical diversity and by plantations abandoned in the wake of emancipation. Vale of St.Thomas—an American artist’s depiction of a British Caribbean colony—was painted following the Civil War in the United States and the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica. The intersection between race, economics, and violence takes a surprisingly prominent place in Church’s painting, as does the issue of visual memory. If The Icebergs charts the breakdown of iconography, Vale of St.Thomas presents a startling lack of iconography. The sixth and seventh chapters consider a two- and a three-dimensional landscape: El Khasné, Petra and Olana. Church’s image of a sacred site in the Holy Land dispenses with the traditional features of landscape painting. There is no sky, no framing trees, no foreground details or background mountains, no panoramic horizontality. The painting is the detail. While portraying a place of spiritual significance, El Khasné suggests the limits of faith. As in Herman Melville’s long poem Clarel, a contemporaneous work that also addresses Petra, the question becomes: how can art be produced in the face of—or even out of—doubt? If Olana represents Church’s desire to create aesthetic form out of a natural world, a Darwinian world, that increasingly resisted such order, El Khasné, Petra suggests the impossibility of satisfying such intentions. El Khasné, Petra is a radically compressed landscape, a mysterious, even unsettling, vertical painting that Church hung in his family’s sitting room at Olana, designing the room around the image. But with Olana, which he was


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simultaneously constructing, Church moved beyond the limitations of the canvas and the constraints of pictorial composition. Working with the natural world and the changeability of its details, he could make “more and better” landscapes. The estate is composed in the eighteenth-century language of the picturesque, an aesthetic that allowed Church to shape and frame the landscape, not to create a single composition, but to construct an almost infinite number of views. It was a means to rethink scale, process, and visual experience while also engaging with pressing ecological questions. In creating Olana, Church worked with the spatial and material specificity of a certain site. He becomes, to use Robert Smithson’s phrase (applied to Frederick Law Olmsted), an “earthwork artist.”75 Such terms can help to reframe Church’s project, moving it beyond the boundaries of the nineteenth century and the stubborn disciplinary border of 1945—that so problematically claims to separate “American art” from “modern art”—to come into surprising dialogue with the works of artists like Smithson and Dan Flavin, whom I discuss in the epilogue. In part because modernism has largely dismissed or ignored the landscapes of Church and his contemporaries, the specific and powerful relevance of their pictorial mode—an aesthetic of detail—has been insufficiently explored. And this raises the question: is representational detail what modernism implicitly works against? The details in Church’s landscapes emerge from the material world, from nature’s “things.” They signal a turn toward a scientific realism while still adhering to Romanticism’s structural elements. His paintings are based on an aesthetic of detail that retains a desire for a greater system. Church is trying to make an older model relevant, as if all those details could furnish positivistic proof that Romantic ideals were still possible, observable, natural. This is not, in other words, the emergence of a new mode of representation—not what we can arguably see in Edouard Manet or in Impressionism—but an attempt to work from within an existing visual paradigm. Through recourse to ever-greater particulars, Church undertakes a visual defense of what Carol Christ has called “the reality of universals.”76 And it is precisely this attempt at mimetic representation, and its proliferation, that threatened the symbolic coherence of a painting like The Heart of the Andes for viewers at the time. One may look more closely to gain visual precision and expect a corresponding interpretive clarity, but seeing in detail can lead to semiotic instability. Perhaps this is what is “lacking” for us as present-day viewers, to return to Albert Ten Eyck Gardner’s speculation about Church’s popularity. We are not unsettled by a painting that appears to be more interested in its own representational condition than in our interpretation of it. But this was an anxiety for nineteenth-century viewers. I cannot offer textual proof that Church was conscious of such tensions. He reflected on his aesthetic practice very little; although volumes of his letters and

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three diaries from his trips remain, he seldom addresses why and how he paints. But his paintings provide the evidence, and I believe it is the art historian’s task to mine the canvases as one would an archive, to look closely, and to consult the parallel archive of historical documents to consider why these paintings were loved or hated, praised or ignored. Church’s landscapes are my primary sources, and yet it is impossible to “quote” from images. Details provide the closest analogy— bracketing or splicing part from whole as if to construct little blocks of quotations. As sites of quotation, they are like texts, and yet they constantly remind us that they are not texts. There is an inherent subjectivity at work when writing about detail; what constitutes “part” and “whole,” and also where one crops a work of art to create a “detail,” are culturally and historically constructed but are also based on the individual act of perception. Perhaps this subjectivity is why period critics often rely on nonvisual ways to characterize detail, why Church’s details, for instance, become associated with scientific facts (and thus objectivity) or material things. Such physical or conceptual stability would seem to counterbalance the unpredictability and individuality of vision. Church’s details invite a rush of language that works to conceal their perceptual origins. I see my methodology as being fundamentally object-centered, one practiced by art historians such as Bryan Wolf, Alexander Nemerov, Jennifer Roberts, and Rachael DeLue, among others. Making the work of art the touchstone for one’s inquiry involves a couple of propositions: first, that the work of art and an artist’s intentions for that work are often two different things and, secondly, that writing about art is a process of translation. By placing the object—rather than the artist (or the artist’s writings)—at the center of inquiry, the visual is given pride of place. This relates to the second assumption: that art history is a process of translation. Art historians translate the visual into textual language when writing about objects. Wanda Corn calls this “thick description”—a resonant phrase.77 And to describe is to interpret. These may seem like self-evident statements, but they are all too often neglected or even, in a sense, repressed, allowing for problematic assumptions that different forms of evidence—the artist’s biography, a reviewer’s words, an artist’s letters—could stand in for the (silent) visual object. These all too easily become the “primary” documents that are offered to “explain” the object. To be sure, these are critically important sources that must be considered, and I will make use of them all. But they are not the work of art itself. My contention is that any art historical interpretation relies on how we see and describe a visual object (ekphrasis), and that means that any interpretation starts from a place of quite radical subjectivity. Not unlike the detail, description as an art historical mode is, as Jas´ Elsner has argued about ekphrasis, at once foundational and easily overlooked.78


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This project grew out of an interest in thinking about a specific mode of nineteenth-century painting, one that seems, through its details, to be consumed by so many things, the stuff of the natural world. Church’s approach connects him with scientists of the period, and not just with Humboldt (an influence that scholars have discussed at length) but with Darwin as well. Church and Darwin may seem like unlikely bedfellows; although Church was passionately interested in science, he resisted Darwin’s theories of evolution. But they share compellingly similar methods: a keen, even obsessive, sense of observation, a desire to collect natural facts—as sketches or specimens—and a need to put them all together, those “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful,” to use the phrase from the final sentence of The Origin of Species.79 Through detail, empiricism is wed to epiphany. To see in detail is to examine the world, to touch it with the hands or get closer with the eyes. It is no coincidence that the images on the covers of both Naomi Schor’s Reading in Detail and Daniel Arasse’s Le détail feature a detail of hands in the act of touching and gesturing. The detail conveys art at its greatest proximity and often at its most strange and unfamiliar. The poet Elizabeth Bishop describes this experience in one of her letters. “Reading Darwin, one admires the beautiful solid case being built up out of his endless heroic observations, almost unconscious or automatic—and then comes a sudden relaxation, a forgetful phrase, and one feels the strangeness of his undertaking, sees the lonely young man, his eyes fixed on facts and minute details, sinking or sliding giddily off into the unknown.”80 Out of all those “facts and minute details,” out of that “beautiful solid case,” emerges the “strangeness” of all this accumulating. To see in detail is to pursue knowledge only to discover, instead, the beautiful strangeness of seeing.

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chapter 1

The Monumental Image se en f rom a dista n c e, the painting is controlled by a strong but simple geometry. The rectangular form of the canvas is echoed in the long band of sky. The straight edge of the horizon line divides the image horizontally. The cataract stretches nearly the entire length of the more than seven-and-a-half-foot picture, the diagonal of the near rim and the wide inward curve of the far shore constructing its boundaries. Jagged shelves of rocks appear just before the precipice. Deep purple clouds at the right carry the eye into the background, their uneven border mirrored by the shapes of the rocks below. At the left, a fragment of a rainbow leads to its terminus in the blur of mist. Shades of blue, green, and white dominate. From afar, Niagara is a painting of insistent unity (fig. 2). Moving closer, each blue swell and white cap becomes visible. The sense of choppy, deeper water near the bottom edge is created by rounded, dark green strokes while little ragged crescents of bright white give form to the more turbulent portions. Such areas also appear stippled with white pigment, the countless waves and churning froth communicated by individual dots and flecks, each visible on the surface and yet rarely resulting in a demonstrable thickness that one could call impasto. As a result, the foreground retains its representational illusion even at very close range. A drop of paint comes to stand for a drop of water in a seemingly natural way: the medium looks like its subject, the pictorial equivalent of onomatopoeia. In a sense, a detail in Niagara could be just a single speck of white paint. But it is the accumulation of so many specks that delineate different kinds of motion in the immediate foreground and that invite the eye in any number of directions, through the vast range of scale within the representational schema of the picture. How to manage this is the challenge of the painting. In this chapter, I will argue that this was at once a pictorial challenge—how to unify the details—and a cultural one; constructing an appearance of “union” in 1857 had significant political and social stakes. I see the function of detail in Niagara not only in terms of its own historical moment but also in relation to new ways of representing the past: popular illustrated histories published at mid-century offered landscapes as privileged sites of national memory. In these texts, place becomes history, available to all. The discourse around the popularity of Church’s picture, which was widely purchased as an engraving and chromolithograph, reveals the increasingly codified cultural categories of “high” and “low,” shaped by questions of reproduction, mimesis, and detail.

Detail of figure 2


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Previous Pages fi g u r e 2 Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857. Oil on canvas, 40 × 90 ½ in. (101.6 × 229.9 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Corcoran Collection, Museum purchase, Gallery Fund.

r ead i n g niagara No individual detail in Niagara immediately claims the viewer’s attention. The water draws the eye in, but no one droplet or wave or cascade seems more important than another. Eschewing the usual perspective from high above or below, the painting places the viewer at the edge of the cataract, just above the water, or even in it, as some critics interpreted the viewpoint. “The brown jagged verge above the western section of the Horse-shoe Fall was at my feet,” one wrote.1 There is no land to provide orientation or stability. Thus a detail that might otherwise be overlooked becomes more compelling, and not easily resolved: an uprooted tree serves as the first point of contact in the immediate foreground (fig. 3). A hollow base and gnarled roots indicate that this is a trunk, although its small size and oddly indeterminate scale make it appear more like a branch or limb. Tilted up, as if carried on the crest of a wave, this tree seems about to head over the rim of the Falls. But its angle might also indicate that it has been caught on an unseen rock below, causing white foam to gather on its right side, the one area where paint has been visibly built up. While such possibilities may seem insignificant, the tree’s ambiguous position in the picture points to a more serious tension. This detail proposes conflicting interpretations. If we see the trunk as caught, it can then be read as an emblem of stability and even stillness in the midst of the momentum and turmoil of so much rushing water. In the preparatory sketch from 1856–57, rocks in fact occupy the spot where the tree is located in the painting (fig. 4). But if we see the trunk as on the verge of a steep plunge, it suggests danger. One reading offers a tenuous security, the other a sense of imminent peril. Far from land and

fi g u r e 3 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Corcoran Collection, Museum purchase, Gallery Fund.


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lacking roots, severed from its original landscape, the tree in Niagara does not provide clear symbolic guidance. The dead tree trunk both references and subverts landscape tradition. It occupies the place in which the viewer would expect to find the repoussoir object of Claudian compositions—a tall tree rising up into the upper reaches of the canvas. Church’s tree trunk also invokes the work of his teacher, Thomas Cole, who often prominently placed dead trees or stumps in his foregrounds.2 While Cole’s ominous specimens operate allegorically, referencing the destruction of nature and innocence lost, Church’s tree does not invite such definitive interpretations. It points to the edge of the Falls and visually connects the viewer with the canvas’s main event. Not included in any preliminary sketches, Church may have added this element to make the movement through the composition more legible, although it makes the meaning more indeterminate. The long, rectangular format of Niagara encourages the eye to move back and forth across the canvas, as if reading lines of text on a page: beginning at the lower left edge with the tree, following the closest rim of the Falls, back along its far edge, then again across the distant horizon line where water and land meet sky.3 And Church had devised the composition in just this way: in the earlier sketch, the artist had joined two pieces of paper in order to achieve the necessary breadth. Terrapin Tower is the only distinctly vertical element in the painting (fig. 5). But the place from which visitors could enjoy a panoramic view of the Falls is here miniaturized and consigned to the far reaches of the background. A person stands on the balcony of the Tower, as if demonstrating its spectatorial function.4 Yet this is not a figure with whom the viewer can identify, in the Romantic tradition of Caspar David Friedrich. In Friedrich’s landscapes, such as Wanderer above a Sea of Fog, there is often what Joseph Leo Koerner calls a Rückenfigur who functions as the viewer’s painted double while also blocking the view, producing a feeling of belatedness as if one had arrived too late to see the landscape in its

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figure 4 Frederic Edwin Church, Horseshoe Falls, December 1856–January 1857. Oil on two pieces of paper, joined together, mounted on canvas, 11½ × 35⅝ in. (29.2 × 90.5 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.15.


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fi g u r e 5 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Corcoran Collection, Museum purchase, Gallery Fund.

entirety (fig. 6).5 Church’s tiny person may give his composition a sense of scale, but in an almost absurd way; the scale is so large that the figure can hardly be seen. Yet this is an important point: the tourist on the balcony exists on a visual threshold, between the visible and the invisible. By not providing a figure large enough to identify with, Niagara constructs an unmediated viewing experience and thus an effect of immediacy. As Rachael DeLue has argued, “a sort of failed vision or obstructed seeing” characterizes literary accounts of Niagara Falls from the period.6 Church’s painting can be seen as an attempt to overcome or clear away any such obstructions.


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The painting’s powerful horizontality is enabled by subordinating, and even withholding, verticality. Although Niagara Falls was known for its depth and height, its terrifyingly steep plunge, Church’s Niagara directs the eye across the Falls. Every major compositional element encourages a lateral movement in Niagara. Clouds of mist, a Turnerian blur, obscure much of the view of the cataract itself. The sense of danger remains more implied rather than seen, undoubtedly contributing to the painting’s frisson for spectators at the time. The water cascades over the edge of the far shore but the precipitous drop in the foreground is left to the imagination. figure 6 Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above a Sea of Fog, c. 1817. Oil on canvas, 37 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 29 ⁷⁄₁₆ in. (94.8 × 74.8 cm). Hamburger Kunsthalle on permanent loan from the Foundation for the Promotion of the Hamburg Art Collections.

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fi g u r e 7 John Trumbull, Niagara Falls from Below the Great Cascade on the British Side, 1808. Oil on canvas, 24 ⁷⁄₁₆ × 36 ⅜ in. (62.1 × 92.4 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Daniel Wadsworth, 1848.5.

Another kind of withholding also takes place. The artist does not include tourists parading along the banks, as does John Trumbull in Niagara Falls from Below the Great Cascade on the British Side, or people clinging to the edge, as in Alvan Fisher’s The Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagara (figs. 7, 8). No photographers take pictures and no salesmen hawk souvenirs—all apparent in Ferdinand Richardt’s contemporaneous Niagara (fig. 9)—and there are no traces of the many buildings that crowded the cataract’s perimeter by 1857. Henry James, visiting the landmark fifteen years later, described the shore “choked in the horribly vulgar shops and booths and catchpenny artifices

fi g u r e 8 Alvan Fisher, The Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagara, 1820. Oil on canvas, 34 ⅜ × 48 ⅛ in. (87.2 × 122 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Museum purchase, 1966.82.1. fi g u r e 9 (Joachim) Ferdinand Richardt, Niagara, c. 1855. Oil on canvas, 25 × 33 in. (63.5 × 83.8 cm). The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, August Heckscher Collection.


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which have pushed and elbowed to within the very spray of the Falls.” And yet, despite these “hideous and infamous” commercial intrusions, Niagara, the place, still appeared to the novelist like a work of art, “the most beautiful object in the world.”7 Reviewers of Church’s Niagara praised the lack of “accessories” and “extraneous forms.”8 Other potentially divergent details, like Terrapin Tower, are pushed to the edges of the canvas or overwhelmed by the scale. In the upper right of the painting, houses can be seen along the far shore of the Falls (fig. 10). Such details reward the careful viewer while never competing with the painting’s main subject and effect. In his 1855 treatise on art theory, James Jackson Jarves recommended that painters begin with “a principle we call unity,” that “keystone of nature,” and only then proceed to the details, which should always remain “subservient” to the whole. This was critical to avoiding the aesthetic discord caused by the “difficult management of detail.”9 Church seems intent on devising a composition in which details are subservient to a unified effect. Here are elemental forms, a single strong subject, and a visual path mapped out. The composition, wrote one reviewer, was built “upon the true principles of the sublime.”10 The painting consciously adopts Burkean ideas of the sublime: nature as characterized by power, vastness, and obscurity, eliciting astonishment and overwhelming the senses. The mind, writes Edmund Burke, “is so entirely filled

f i g u r e 10 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Corcoran Collection, Museum purchase, Gallery Fund.

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with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.”11 Most likely these aesthetic concepts came to the artist through secondary sources, namely the visual practices of Thomas Cole and the writings of Englishman Sir Joshua Reynolds, who takes up the issue in his Discourses on Art (1769–90). The “whole beauty” of art, Reynolds writes, is based on “being able to get above singular forms, local customs, particularities, and details of every kind.” Details take on the status of the humble, provincial, and “low.” Whereas the “minute” only serves “to divide the attention . . . the Sublime impresses the mind at once with one great idea; it is a single blow.” For Reynolds, details were not only a distraction, they were also potentially “dangerous” and should thus be “sacrificed without mercy.”12 Cole understood the sublime in similar terms. “When the mind is astonished,” he writes in “Notes on Art” (1829), “the eye does not dwell upon the minute, but seizes the whole.” Cole found detail to be more fundamental to a larger effect than Reynolds, arguing that a picture “most fitted to awaken sensations of the sublime, is made up of minutest parts.” But details should ultimately be rendered “subordinate, and ministrative to the one effect.” They should remain “comparatively unobserved,” as if silenced by the grandeur of a scene and the import of its moral message.13 Church’s details work to a singular effect—the power of water—attempting to make the canvas, and the viewer’s mind, “so entirely filled with its object.” But what results is a detailed effect: the cumulative, rather than immediate, result of seeing so much specificity. The astonishment of the sublime in Niagara is an astonishment produced by all those details holding on to representational coherence at such a scale. Details do not remain “comparatively unobserved.” This is the painting’s risk—the problem, to return to Jarves, of the “difficult management of detail.” The viewer may find the precision of water and the startling diversity of strokes to be more pleasurable, and even more powerful, than the whole. Church subordinates other more representationally specific pictorial details (tower, houses, even the tree trunk) to the water, but the water itself seems to reveal a desire to push mimetic effect to the limits of visibility while also evoking the sublime.

s eei n g a nd citizenship In 1857, the year that Niagara was first exhibited, a pivotal shift occurred in the political landscape as Southern secession seemed imminent.14 For viewers at the time, Church’s painting of a national landmark carried with it the weight of sectional crisis as well as hopes for resolution. The writer of an 1859 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine claimed that Church’s painting was “so satisfactory a portrait of the great cataract that we all have an individual pride in it, as we have in Niagara itself.” Just as Niagara was the quintessential American landmark, Church’s Niagara achieved its own iconic status, the Harper’s critic deeming it “more widely known and admired in this country than any other picture ever painted in America.”15


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A sense of citizenship emerged from the shared visual experience of the landscape. In 1860, the Reverend Edward Taylor, preaching to his Boston congregation, linked the singularity of the Falls to the question of national unity: Look at Niagara. What does it represent? What does it resemble? Does it not resemble our country,—our vast, immeasurable, unconquerable, inexplicable country? After you have said Niagara, all that you may say is but an echo. It will remain Niagara whether you are friends or foes. So with this country. It is our own. God reserved it for us, and there is not the shadow of it in all the world besides.16 Niagara meant nationhood, a nation that remained an intact and “unconquerable” whole. For Adam Badeau—writer, diplomat, and military secretary to Ulysses S. Grant— Frederic Church’s Niagara visually evoked the definition of American citizenship. In “American Art,” from his 1859 collection of essays TheVagabond, he praised the painting as “grand and sublime . . . natural to the nation,” as if the picture both embodied the country and emerged from it. He then goes on to express its societal implications: It is a true development of the American mind; the result of democracy, of individuality, of the expansion of each, of the liberty allowed to all; of ineradicable and lofty qualities in human nature. It is inspired not only by the irresistible cataract, but by the mighty forest, by the thousand miles of river, by the broad continent we call our own, by the onward march of civilization, by the conquering of savage areas; characteristic alike of the western backwoodsman, of the Arctic explorer, the southern filibuster, and the northern merchant.17 In a single sentence, Badeau breathlessly jumps from Niagara the painting to Niagara the place and then on to the nation’s rivers and forests, the “broad continent,” and then civilization itself. Finally, continuing that same sentence, Badeau describes the conqueror in manifest destiny’s “onward march”: he is the western backwoodsman, the Arctic explorer, the southern filibuster, and the northern merchant. From a single canvas, the writer works out to symbolic generalization, and then back in again to particular types. Citizenship is tied to each individual, whether northern or southern, sharing the same values, the same nation, and the same landscape. Seeing the picture at the end of the 1850s meant confronting the nation’s present and finding reassurance for its future.

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Critics thus appropriated the painting for the cause of national unity, whether like Badeau in explicitly political terms, or through language that could suggest political desires—unification, wholeness, as well as monumentality.18 Monumentality came to describe not only the painting’s large size, but also invoked a sense of sacrificing (to use Reynolds’s term) depth and differentiation in favor of breadth and singularity. While critics often commented on the painting’s “minuteness,” they almost always found that this was resolved in favor of “the whole.”19 Considered in this way, Niagara can be read as a form of monumental history. As conceived by the painter’s contemporary Friedrich Nietzsche, “monumental history” will “always approximate, generalize and finally equate differences. . . . It disregards as much as possible.” This is juxtaposed against two other “kinds of history”: “antiquarian,” characterized by an obsession with a past, a penchant for collecting, and “the dust of bibliographical minutiae,” and “critical,” which examines and judges the past, sometimes undertaking the dangerous process of taking “the knife to its roots.” The essential component of monumentalism is “forgetting,” a term Nietzsche uses throughout his essay “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” (1874). “No artist will paint his picture, no general achieve victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition. . . . The man of action . . . forgets a great deal to do one thing.”20 Drawing on Nietzsche’s essay in a brief but compelling analysis of Church’s painting, Russ Castronovo describes the work of art as participating in “a particular historical mode of articulating national culture,” one that “defines people as citizens and collects them in the construct of a nation.” Such collectivity is represented through visual transcendence—the forgetting—of details.21 Citizenship, as expressed by Church’s picture, is about finding commonality and assimilating the many into the one. The man of action must have a singular purpose; the painting of action must have a univocal effect. In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche proposes the idea of “active” forgetting, which he likens to “a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette.” Forgetting becomes a “force,” both an “apparatus of repression” and a “form of robust health.”22 Earlier in the century, Kierkegaard, in Either/Or (1843), called forgetting “an ideal process of assimilation.”23 Health, according to Nietzsche, can only be achieved through a balance of memory and forgetting and within a bounded space. A “horizon” must be drawn: “a line which distinguishes what is clear and in full view from the dark and unilluminable.” To be enclosed within those borders is “the art and power of forgetting.”24 In Niagara, the horizon becomes the central organizing premise. What one sees up close, all those details of the water, must be forgotten to gain a sense of the boundaries that delimit the painting’s subject and convey its effect. There is also a degree of “approximation” and “repression” at work. Niagara depicts the view from the Canadian side of the Falls; thus despite the claims of being “natural to


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f i g u r e 11 Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867. Oil on canvas, 101 ⅜ × 89 ½ in. (257.5 × 227.3 cm). Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.

the nation,” to use Badeau’s phrase, Church’s picture shows a scene from a foreign country. But the particularities of the perspective are not emphasized—this is, simply, “Niagara.” The painting also does not actually show much of the chasm itself. Conveying order and health was, in other words, contingent upon repressing an essential element of the painting’s subject matter. Perhaps, at this moment before national fracture, fully depicting the waterfall would have destabilized the painting’s monumentalism; a gaping cataract is not exactly a reassuring symbol of unity. Church chose not to depict the precipitous drop for another decade, painting the dramatically vertical Niagara Falls, from the American Side in 1867, two years after the Civil War, using sketches from his trips in the 1850s (fig. 11).25 A man leans out on a precarious perch to take in the site; a woman hangs back behind him. One tree trunk extends below the man’s body, holding up this crude observation deck and lending a tense stability to the scene. These forms unequivocally communicate the danger and exhilaration of the view.

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lan d s cape and historical memory With the United States facing division, a new mode of historical discourse emerged at mid-century that worked against forgetting. New histories of the country sought to unify a diverse and discordant public. Publishers launched aggressive advertising campaigns aimed at the growing middle class, kept prices within reach, signed up buyers in advance through subscription series, and printed exponentially more books per edition than ever before.26 Popular and prolific writers such as Benson J. Lossing produced thick volumes notable for their geographic and geologic specificity. Lossing, who was also an engraver, felt passionately that history should be accessible to every American citizen, and that illustrated history could realize this goal by bringing “visible language” to all people, regardless of class or education.27 In 750 pages of text and more than 1,100 engravings, his enormously popular Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (1851) offered images of specific landscapes and narratives based on interviews with the aging generation that had experienced the Revolutionary War. As Gregory Pfitzer notes, Lossing sought “visual confirmation of details lost to the historical record.”28 While the American people optimistically oriented themselves toward the future, according to Lossing, Europeans revered the past. The new nation’s greatest strength was also its most profound weakness. But if “few looked back,” then individual and collective memory would submit to “the invisible fingers of decay . . . and the behests of Mammon.”29 Lossing thus sees his task as rescuing the past from neglect and the present from wordly seductions. He proposes to give a history “broken into fragments,” in which each is “individuated as much as possible, yet always maintaining a tie of visible relationship with the whole.” Individuation, in Lossing’s terms, is also directly tied to geographical place, to “what particular stream, or lofty height, or broad plain, or in what mountain gorge, occurred the battles of Rocky Mount, King’s Mountain, Eutaw Spring, or the Cowpens.”30 The particular location of the historical scenes becomes as important as the action that occurred there and provides a link to the present through name and geologic features. Lossing laments that few remembered these places. To remedy this, he offers a “chorographical” account of American history. The term, literally meaning the “writing of place,” goes to the heart of Lossing’s project.31 Landscape becomes a form of history. Lossing’s books, like Church’s Niagara, attempt to create a sense of unity. Patriotic morals can then be defined and offered to the reader. But the historian also uses detail to emphasize difference, something that Niagara works to avoid. Lossing insists on remembering and recording those many details, constructing an “antiquarian” mode of history, to use Nietzsche’s designation, that relies on anecdote. Lossing celebrates what Reynolds disdainfully called the “local.” Maurice Samuels has argued for a similar phenomenon in nineteenth-century France.


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During the 1830s and 40s, political instability and the rise of industrial capitalism provoked a “memory crisis.” Romantic historiography, in the form of illustrated history books, with their reliance on anecdotal details, emerged in response. These books worked to erase the distance between viewer and history and give citizens a sense of historical agency in the face of great uncertainty.32 In the United States a couple of decades later, illustrated histories provided a means to bind the states together through a shared narrative of the past, a collective memory that traces “the politics of culture,” in the words of Michael Kammen, and also reveals the ways in which such memory can never be cohesive or clear. “All of history cannot be remembered,” Kammen writes, “and collective memory must be used with discrimination by the historian.”33 Lossing, it would seem, endeavors to remember everything. Citizenship, he states in the final sentence of his introduction to The National History of the United States (1855), means that we must “not forget.”34 With the aim of creating a shared heritage, Lossing’s texts and Church’s landscapes both contend with the problem of remembering and representing history. The detail becomes about the individuation of place and about place as national history. Lossing’s frontispiece for his Pictorial Field-Book illustrates this (fig. 12). In this romanticized image, an old veteran has one arm outstretched, pointing behind him, the other hanging in a sling. His gesture indicates that he is recounting a story of the past. Men, women, and children gather around him to listen to these memories, while a strangely dense profusion of ferns and vines wraps around the scene and the text as if threatening to overtake it. In the lower left corner, a cannon points ominously outward, its dark barrel swathed—but not concealed— by delicate plants. The cannon signifies a different mode of communication: the loud, violent blast. This is Reynolds’s sublime: “one great idea . . . a single blow.” Church’s Niagara is like that cannon. While Lossing buries it in his frontispiece, Church takes it as his subject. The painting is a demonstrative site of action. If Lossing delineates the significance of each stream, plain, and valley to tell a story of the past, Church presents history as an image of the present. Thomas Cole’s portrayal of Niagara orients itself to the past not through the delineation of minutiae, but by taking the perils of forgetting as its very subject (fig. 13). In his DistantView of Niagara Falls, Cole places two Native Americans on a rocky ledge toward the foreground (fig. 14). Turned away from the viewer, they look out at the distant Falls in quiet contemplation. The ledge provides a stage for the small figures, separating them from the potentially camouflaging effects of the vividly colored foliage on either side of the river, while still suggesting a close connection through the burnt orange hues of both their clothing and the autumn leaves. Perched on this high prospect, backlit by the water’s white spray, and placed in the center of the canvas, these Native Americans become the principal subjects of the painting. It is through them that we see the Falls in the background, and

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fi g u r e 12 Frontispiece of Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper Brothers, 1851).

thus they become further identified with their natural surroundings. But the figures exist at a kind of insurmountable distance—the ledge physically separates them from the viewer, just as they are physically separated from Niagara. Another ledge exists in the immediate foreground, providing a viewing platform of sorts. But this only serves to further emphasize the distance between subject and object,


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confining the viewer to an isolated spot in this natural world, just as the Native Americans are confined to theirs. Cole’s painting speaks in the past tense of an idealized world where people were closer to nature, the landscape was yet unsullied, but where the ominous signs of change lurked in the banks of dark clouds in the distance. Cole’s tiny back-turned figures set up the painting’s allegorical premise: the Native Americans represent nature herself, fragile, passive, on the brink of sweeping change. Meanwhile, the viewer’s place at a clear remove from these small but pivotal figures signals both belatedness and powerlessness, the inability to stop such change. Disappearance is the threat that the painting poses; a retrospective orientation— remembering, and guarding against forgetting—is its melancholy response. If Cole’s painting looks backward, just as his Native Americans do, Church’s Niagara stretches in all directions, as if eliding past and present.

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f i g u r e 13 Thomas Cole, Distant View of Niagara Falls, 1830. Oil on panel, 18 ⅞ × 23 ⅞ in. (47.9 × 60.6 cm). Friends of the American Art Collection, 1946.396, The Art Institute of Chicago.


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fi g u r e 14 Detail of Thomas Cole, Distant View of Niagara Falls, 1830. Oil on panel. Friends of the American Art Collection, 1946.396, The Art Institute of Chicago.

th e popular image Niagara Falls attracted approximately 60,000 visitors in 1850,35 and it was the prime tourist destination for the middle class from the 1820s until the Civil War.36 Guidebooks led the visitor through the notable aspects, among them Terrapin Tower, Prospect Point, Goat Island, and the Whirlpool, each of which charged its own admission fee. The Falls was the most photographed site in the last half of the nineteenth century and the most stereographed subject in the world, with millions of views in circulation. In the 1850s, Niagara appeared on lamp shades, sheet music, china, wallpaper, and stock certificates.37 Niagara, in short, was everywhere.


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Frederic Church’s painting would become the image most associated with the site. The artist made his first sketching trip to Niagara Falls in March 1856 and returned twice for stays that summer. The result was a painting of the Falls that would gain lavish praise during tours throughout the United States, England, and Scotland. Thousands of people paid twenty-five cents to see the acclaimed landscape when it was first exhibited in New York for less than four weeks in the spring of 1857. According to one source, the average visitor spent an hour studying it.38 In Paris a decade later, the canvas won a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle. Niagara was Church’s first significant international success. The painting was not only popular, it was widely available in reproduction. Church’s dealer, Williams, Stevens, Williams and Company, paid the artist the hefty sum of $4,500 for the picture, which included $2,500 for the work itself and $2,000 for the reproduction rights, in addition to half of the proceeds of the future sale of the painting over and above the original price tag.39 Such shrewd bargaining on Church’s part gave his New York dealers even greater incentive to maximize their profits from print sales. The painting was exhibited for less than a month (May 1–29, 1857) before being shipped to England to undergo “the new process of Chromolithography . . . by the first artist in Chromo-Tints in London,” according to the brochure published by Church’s dealer. During those few weeks in May, eleven hundred people subscribed for this “Fac-Simile” of the painting, paying either $30 for an “artist’s proof in colors” or $15 for a “print in colors” (fig. 15).40 The painting toured Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool in the summer of 1858, returned to New York to be exhibited that autumn (admission was free to print subscribers), and then traveled to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, and

f i g u r e 15 Subscription form for a chromolithograph of Church’s Painting of Nature’s Grandest Scene, Niagara,The Great Fall, by Frederic Edward [sic] Church (New York: Williams, Stevens, Williams, 1857). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1986.130.

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New Orleans—a southern tour for a northern landmark. Along the way many additional subscribers for the “chromo” were signed up.41 Later, the painting was engraved by William Forrest, an eminent Edinburgh engraver who also worked on The Heart of the Andes. Niagara was seen by crowds around the country and across the ocean; the prints were bought by “multitudes” as “a new decoration for the walls” of middle-class homes and as “a new gem for their port folios.”42 Thus the painting and its reproductions were marketed at the same moment. The canvas was seen and then the print delivered later, serving as a memory of both an aesthetic experience as well as, perhaps, an actual experience of Niagara. Critics repeatedly referred to Church’s painting as a “reproduction” of the Falls, rhetorically intertwining the painted and physical landscapes.43 The picture’s detailed effect further invites this sense of a reproduction of nature. Such mimesis could be astonishing but it also exposed the painting to a different critique, one that Church would face with later works more explicitly: if Niagara could be seen as a reproduction, was it high art? The multiplicity of details threatened to turn the work of art into a mere copy. Henry Tuckerman’s comment in Book of the Artists (1867) about Church’s interest in the “facts” of nature and their “resolute transfer to art” testifies to this issue. “To master the difficulties of his profession is more of an inspiration to him,” Tuckerman wrote, “than to utter, through it, what is innate and overpowering in his own conceptions.”44 The issue, by 1867, was one of artistic agency. Too many facts implied a labor of imitation that, however masterful, put conceptual originality at risk. Such issues of originality and reproduction point to the permeable boundaries between “high” and “low” culture in the United States at mid-century. As Lawrence Levine has argued, during the first half of the nineteenth century, a vibrant public culture with few hierarchical divisions existed in the United States. At this point in history, no fixed categories existed to define and separate “high” and “popular” culture. The terms we have inherited began to emerge at mid-century and were codified in the final decades of the nineteenth century.45 Thus for Church, a painting that was “popular” primarily meant that it had a large audience; for Henry James, who produced the majority of his literary and critical work toward the end of the century, what was “popular” had a new meaning: something of “questionable artistic merit,” to use Levine’s words.46 In James’s 1873 story “The Madonna of the Future,” the American expatriate artist Theobald, living in Italy, triumphantly tells the narrator that he had not been “productive . . . in the vulgar sense”; in other words, he had never stooped so low as to actually sell a painting. In fact, he was still working on one and only one work of art. “At least no merchant traffics in my heart!” Theobald exclaims, quoting a Robert Browning poem, shortly after condemning his homeland’s superficiality. “The soil of American perception is a poor little barren, artificial deposit.Yes! we are wedded to imperfection. . . .


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We lack the deeper sense. We have neither taste, nor tact, nor power. How should we have them? Our crude and garish climate, our silent past, our deafening present, the constant pressure about us of unlovely circumstance, are as void of all that nourishes and prompts and inspires the artist.”47 The “crude” American was a product of his landscape, his history, his “barren” culture. Although Theobald is a character worthy of both derision and sympathy, James’s feelings about his own country and its inability to cultivate the arts were less ambivalent. How could an artist work in such a “deafening present”? Levine notes that the division between “high” and “low” that occurred during the second half of the century was accompanied by moralizing rhetoric and religious analogies. Art was something sacred that could both educate and uplift the lower classes, but it could also play to the baser instincts of the masses.48 James Jackson Jarves found Church’s works to be “brilliantly enchanting on first view, but leaving no permanent satisfaction to the mind, as all things fail to do which delight more in astonishing than instructing.” Pleasure should not be the aim of a great work of art, the critic implies, noting with disdain those “spectators [who] are so loud in their exclamations of delight.” Church’s paintings invited not quiet lessons but vocal, emotional engagements. And thus his canvases became increasingly associated with a more Jamesian notion of “popularity”; the artist, Jarves dismissively concluded, “will long continue the favorite with a large class.”49 Returning to the United States after years of self-imposed exile, James wrote with horror of the “multiplication, multiplication of everything . . . multiplication with a vengeance.”50 Although his words referred to the influx of immigrants he encountered in New York, they apply equally to an aesthetic preference, and prejudice, that was beginning to develop in the 1850s. The multiplication of the picture—and the multiplication of mimetic detail—became more problematic for critics. The artist’s profits also continued to multiply as his success and fame increased. Church was no Theobald.51 Chromolithographs of Niagara brought Church’s painting into homes across the country. Prints of Niagara Falls were a popular wedding gift at the time and the place itself had been dubbed “The Honeymoon Capital of the World” by the third quarter of the century.52 Church and his dealer capitalized on this demand, and the chromolithographs of Niagara, which were cheaper than the engravings, became one of those favored gifts, displayed by countless newlyweds in their new homes. The painting was thus appropriated to very different ends. It could serve as a souvenir of place, a statement of national pride, a reminder of God’s power, and a memento of marriage. As a wedding present, it became a symbol of middle-class domesticity, as if to signify the domestication of the sublime. By 1900, it was offered as an explanation for the demise of landscape painting itself. “Perhaps the doom of the landscape painter was hurried by the false ghost of the ‘Chromo Lithograph.’ Who does not remember when a chromo of Church’s

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‘Niagara’ was not considered a very handsome wedding present? Alas! He who saw it fade out would not give that vanishing rainbow now, but he takes, in its place, a photograph of Sargent’s ‘Moses and the Prophets’ to the bride.”53 Whereas in 1857 the chromolithograph was hailed as a means to bring art into parlors everywhere, by 1900 it became synonymous with something “ugly” or “offensive,” supplanted by another form of mechanical reproduction.54 From a forceful emblem of national unity on the eve of the Civil War, Niagara had metamorphosed into a marker of the union of man and woman before “vanishing” like Church’s own rainbow by the century’s end.

r es tor ation In 1886, Church was forced to repaint parts of Niagara because of damage. In doing so, he attempted to give the sky a more unified effect. The work was then in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the director of the museum, William MacLeod, wrote to Church about dark streaking in the canvas. Because of the artist’s failing health (his rheumatoid arthritis had made painting painful at this point in his career) Church suggested a “picture cleaner” who had worked on one of his canvases before. But this only increased the damage, and the picture was then sent to Church in upstate New York to repair the sky. Upon seeing his tarnished masterpiece, Church wrote to his close friend the sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer: I have the Niagara here—from Washington—An energetic picture cleaner removed the sky—for repairs I suppose— mopped up most of the water and added the grandeur of Chaos to the scene. . . . It was the queerest and most discouraging wreck conceivable—I envied the lunatic his barrel that I might be swallowed up in the chaotic mess—However—I repainted the sky and I think have made it in some respects better than before in as much as it is more subservient to the cataract.55 With characteristically dramatic and humorous finesse (“Friends wept over the change and thereby restored most of the water”), Church introduces a more serious aesthetic issue: the relationship between the two major parts of the canvas, sky and water, those parallel horizontal bands. To create a more unified composition, the artist decided to repaint the sky to make it “subservient to the cataract,” as if he was still trying to work through that “difficult management of detail.” In a subsequent letter to MacLeod, Church further describes his own “restoration”:


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To bring all together and reconcile discrepancies, keeping an eye on the changes that time will make in the future, less on the old work much on the new, was very difficult—and in a certain sense experimental—I was obliged to repaint the sky entirely—but was tramelled [sic] by the necessity for conformity to the original design—If there had been no engravings of the picture I should have allowed myself more freedom—I think however that the sky is better than the original in the respect of its being quieter and more retiring thus giving greater force and importance to the water.56 If the chromolithograph and engravings had facilitated the success of the painting, these prints of Niagara also made it impossible for the artist to forget his 1857 canvas. The reproductions force him to remain true to (or to be “trammeled by”) his “original design.” Engravings are particularly unforgiving in their minute detail. For Church, the engraving comes to stand for the original painting, while the painting is cleaned and corrected and forever changed. What hangs in those parlors becomes a strangely potent testament to a painter’s own history. Later Church would write to art collector Charles Olney that his ill health had been in one sense beneficial, allowing him “to study my pictures calmly and searchingly. The result was not pleasant but I hope will be profitable in the future by enabling me to avoid errors and supply deficiencies.”57 He wrote the letter in 1891, less than five years after repainting Niagara. Just weeks after seeing it again in Washington, the artist thought it could use some varnish; “the sky was still ‘dead.’ ”58 But he would not touch the canvas again. Niagara as we know it today is the painting that Church repainted in 1886, when he tried to “reconcile discrepancies,” respond to “deficiencies,” and create a unity that would be visible in the future.

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chapter 2

Science and the Celestial f rederic c h u rc h’s ea rli e s t and most formative trip took him not to Europe but to South America. In 1853, he traveled through Ecuador and Colombia with his friend and patron Cyrus Field, who was scouting investment opportunities. Back in New York, the artist began work on his first major painting, The Andes of Ecuador (fig. 16). In 1857, the year he would complete Niagara, Church returned for another trek through the Andean range.1 Here was a new frontier for artistic exploration, as well as capitalist enterprise. The painter would never cross the Mississippi to depict the American West, in part because this was the territory of his great rival, Albert Bierstadt. And the Alps, which Church visited in 1868, failed to impress him. Writing to his friend William Osborn, the first owner of The Andes of Ecuador, Church was blunt about that beloved subject of so many European landscape painters: “The Alps disappointed. . . . They have nothing which is not vastly exceeded by the Andes and lack many important features which make the Andes wonderful and exclusive.”2 For Church, the New World was more provocative than the Old. As Charles Darwin had done before him, Church was following the path of the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Church owned all of the scientist’s important books, including all five volumes of Cosmos, and much of the artist’s library—which remains intact at his home, Olana, in Hudson, New York—is made up of key scientific texts of the time, including those that attempt to reconcile the scientific and the divine.3 Humboldt had a broad audience in the United States, and he specifically addressed landscape painters, encouraging them to travel to the tropics and directly observe nature to enrich their art.4 By looking past Europe’s familiar terrain to the tropics, landscape painters could “seize . . . on the true image of the varied forms of nature.” Nature, Humboldt argued, was “a unity in diversity of phenomena; a harmony, blending together all created things, however dissimilar in form and attributes.”5 But such harmony was predicated on “the suppression of all unnecessary detail.” Only then could reason “grasp all that might otherwise escape the limited range of the senses.”6 Unnecessary detail threatened to cause confusion by pulling the viewer away from the primary narrative. Detail and difference must, ultimately, be “suppressed” in order to reveal a whole. Cosmos, as Humboldt’s title implies, was based on humanistic unity. And while Humboldt’s whole was a cosmological one, his language bears striking resemblance to that of the art critics, artists, and philosophers discussed in the previous chapter. For Reynolds, the successful work of art was predicated on “being able to get above singular

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fi g u r e 16 Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas, 59 ⅝ × 87 ½ in. (151.4 × 222.3 cm). Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

forms, local customs, particularities, and details of every kind” in order to communicate “one great idea.” Thomas Cole found that details must be “subordinate, and ministrative to the one effect.” James Jackson Jarves emphasized that “principle we call unity” as the basis of both the natural world and artistic representations of it, while cautioning that details—“difficult” by their very nature— should remain “subservient” to the whole. Nietzsche’s theory of monumentalism centered on “forgetting” differences. The “suppression” of detail was essential to scientific, aesthetic, and philosophical conceptualizations of wholeness during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century. The Andes of Ecuador best visualizes Humboldt’s advice to the landscape painter. It also offers the most illuminating contrast to Church’s later tropical painting The Heart of the Andes (see fig. 22). While both are composite paintings, imagined scenes created from many different viewpoints and studies, the 1855 work provides a multitude of foreground details but ultimately emphasizes effect, that “blending together [of] all created things.” Humboldt himself advised such an approach, recommending that landscape painters take colored sketches of individual botanical and geological forms in the field—the “material origin” of the genre—and then, on return, create “more elaborately finished pictures” in the studio that reflected imaginative breadth and “the force of idealising mental power.”7 Such “finish” and “force” is found in the golden light that pervades The Andes of Ecuador. The sun’s white orb is placed in the top-center of the canvas, a pupil-like form that appears at eye level (fig. 17). This


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circle of bright paint immediately captures the attention, not only because of its placement and hue, but because it is also the one area of the canvas where Church has demonstrably built up the paint (fig. 18). John Davis has described it as “potent, corrosive light boring through its center.”8 The source of this light takes on an explicitly tactile quality, in contrast to the smooth and even surfaces of the rest of the canvas. White paint touched by yellow radiates out from the sun, becoming a warm gold at the outer margins of this halo. The light dominates the canvas by forming f i g u r e 17 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

f i g u r e 18 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

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a cruciform shape, extending horizontally over the mountaintops and vertically down the center of the canvas, illuminating the distant winding streams, the central misty gorge, and then the grassy plateau in the foreground. Here the “suppression” of detail in service of a unified whole is made visible. As Humboldt described in his Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During theYears 1799–1804, the sun’s “reddish vapours . . . enveloped every surrounding object.”9 Church’s yellow pigment is applied softly, giving the picture an airy effect, the glow easily encompassing each “object.” At the top of the canvas the yellow paint seems to efface the jagged range of mountains while covering the middle ground with a diffuse glow that blurs the topography, an aesthetic strategy of “dematerialization” that Bryan Wolf reads as privileging “the powers of consciousness over the natural world.” In the foreground, the strong shadows make the most botanically complex aspect of the painting darker and less discernible (fig. 19). The picture’s elevated perspective allows the viewer to see the expanse of climate zones: from palm trees at the left edge and also at the right (fig. 20), to grasslands at the center, to snowclad peaks in the distance. Light becomes that “one great idea” around which the entire painting is centered.10 For Church, who was a religious man, such illumination had an inherently spiritual connotation, and critics at the time interpreted the painting this way. “It literally floods the canvas with celestial fire,” one wrote, “and beams with glory like a sublime psalm of light.”11 The path in the foreground leads the eye to the painting’s other, more literal cross: at the left edge of the canvas, where two pilgrims, a man standing and a woman kneeling, worship (fig. 21). The tree here

fi g u r e 19 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.


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f i g u r e 20 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

acts as a traditional repoussoir device while the religious emblem blends almost imperceptibly into the lush foliage. Abutting the palm and entangled with vines, the stone cross symbolizes religion naturalized. One cross is formed by light in the sky; another marks the near foreground. The high viewpoint creates a sense of detachment from this foreground, and the details there work toward a singular conceptual and visual effect. The cross and pilgrims become small manifestations of a larger idea of natural unity. There are areas that might disrupt this sense of harmony—such as the ferns, palms, flowers, and bushes massed at the bottom edge of the picture—but a clear way around them is also present: the path continues to the right, reappearing twice along the curved hillside where small figures walk along it, and ending at a Spanish mission with a bell tower, white walls, and a red-tiled roof (see fig. 19). The worn dirt trail, which extends out into the viewer’s space in the immediate foreground, ultimately leads the eye from cross to church. But, more significantly, the painting uses these earthly details of divinity to augment the celestial light that envelopes everything. “The sun is master,” wrote Theodore Winthrop, “and its atmosphere almost dazzles us away from simple study of the mountain forms.” Close attention to the canvas is “almost” discouraged.12 In fact, if there was one consistent criticism of the work, it was that this light was too much. “It almost blinds the eye of the spectator,” complained one reviewer.13 Such blinding light assures that details, if they are seen at all, are always secondary to effect. Thomas Cole felt that a landscape painter must first forget those details seen in nature before putting brush to canvas. Time must “draw a veil over the common details, the unessential parts, which shall leave the great features, whether the beautiful or the sublime, dominant in the mind.”14 As in Humboldt’s version of nature, the whole is only graspable through a synthetic “generalization of particular facts.”15

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fi g u r e 21 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Andes of Ecuador, 1855. Oil on canvas. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, ARCA Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

In The Andes of Ecuador, the particular facts of the tropics—palm trees, clusters of red blossoms, jagged boulders, grazing animals—are all present, but they are subordinated to the sunlight. This light “veils” the foreground details, consumes the broad swath of sky, and nearly obliterates the mountain peaks in the center of the canvas. Science is still subject to the sublime. Nature is everywhere marked by God.


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darw i n’s d etai ls If The Andes of Ecuador is Humboldt’s painting, The Heart of the Andes is Darwin’s. Whereas the 1855 picture presents a cohesive, cosmological narrative, the larger 1859 canvas constantly tests the limits of symbolic order (fig. 22). The Heart of the Andes is a landscape of expansive optical competition.Yet Church undoubtedly intended quite the opposite effect. It was supposed to be a stunning homage to Humboldt, a catalogue of botanical and geological and meteorological wonders, all part of one great cosmos. Church had hoped to ship the massive canvas to Germany so that the eighty-nine-year-old Humboldt could see it, but the scientist died just before these plans could become a reality, and The Heart of the Andes never went to Berlin.16 That same year The Origin of Species was published. As evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has argued in a revelatory essay, the intersection of events provides an opportunity to consider the essential role of science in Church’s career and the ways in which Darwin dismantled Humboldt’s theories of natural unity. Church, as Gould rightly notes, was an avowed Humboldtian, as was Darwin before his own observations led him to very different, and difficult, conclusions.17 But it is my contention that The Heart of the Andes is not a Humboldtian painting, as much as Church wished it to be, and as much as Gould too would like it to be. The work presents a different, more complex, more dynamic, and more competitive vision of the world. Reading The Heart of the Andes alongside Darwin allows us to see the painting’s revolutionary nature. The Heart of the Andes displays an exuberance that flirts with disorder. This is exactly what one feels when reading Darwin. Each plant or mammal or mollusk is meticulously described, the result of countless hours of observation and study. The scientist might discuss a flying lemur on one page and a Swedish turnip on another. At one point, “the teeth and talons of the tiger,” the “plumed seed of the dandelion,” and “the flattened and fringed legs of the water-beetle” all appear in two consecutive sentences.18 The text is both precise and wide-ranging. But such a broad scope does not translate into an easily apprehensible unity. About natural selection, Darwin wrote: “I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the co-adaptations between all organic beings.”19 And this was the anxiety for Darwin’s audience: not the existence of such complexity and contingency but the fact that harmony was not the result. Here was a world driven by adaptations at the smallest level of life rather than by an inherent impetus toward wholeness. It is the “progenitive power” of Darwin’s text, to use Gillian Beer’s description, that is so stunning, as is the fact that he is “telling a new story, against the grain of language available to tell it.” And so the scientist must rely on metaphor to suggest something more than a single word or phrase seems to convey.20 He is, for instance, careful to note that he will be using the key term “Struggle for Existence” in “a large and metaphorical way.”21 Origin is also full of sensory evocations which

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Previous Pages fi g u r e 22 Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas, 66 ⅛ × 119 ¼ in. (168 × 302.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.

themselves make a case, at the level of language, for the “beauty and infinite complexity” of Darwin’s natural world. Humboldt’s cosmology was based on nature’s infinite variety. This was the point of departure for both Darwin and Church: an observational practice that privileged detail and a mode of representation, on the page and on the canvas, that evoked a sense of the staggering abundance of life. The effect, though, was quite different: not a cosmos that could be definitively mapped and known, but a system constantly in flux. The Heart of the Andes, wrote William M. Bryant in his Philosophy of Landscape Painting (1882), was a painting in which “lower forms of existence,” exemplified by “the river-plain with its multiple complex of life and activity, . . . perpetually struggle.”22 Darwin’s theory, wrote Henry David Thoreau in his journal in the autumn of 1860, “implies a greater vital force in nature because it is more flexible and accommodating, and equivalent to a sort of constant new creation.”23 Such “constant new creation,” as exhilarating as it is unpredictable, is apparent on every page of Darwin’s book and on every inch of Church’s canvas. Each is also founded on a certain kind of struggle: a struggle for survival in Darwin’s theory of evolution and a struggle for attention in Church’s canvas. Where does one look first? What should one focus on? What is important and what is insignificant, and how can one be sure of the difference? If The Andes of Ecuador made this overwhelmingly clear—the sun demanding the attention, its light suppressing the details— The Heart of the Andes proposes a generative model of vision, where looking becomes not a means of gaining systematic clarity but a way of producing new and even contradictory observations and ideas. Church observes the world with Humboldt’s eye for diversity and wonder. And Darwin does as well. While traveling in South America on the HMS Beagle in 1832, Darwin wrote in a letter to his mentor, J. S. Henslow, “I formerly admired Humboldt, I now almost adore him; he alone gives any notion of the feelings which are raised in the mind on entering the tropics.”24 Darwin, in his autobiography written at the end of his life, names Humboldt’s Personal Narrative, about those South American travels that would inspire both Darwin’s Beagle journeys and Church’s trips through the Andes, as one of the two books that “stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much.”25 Church owned Darwin’s journals from the Beagle voyages of the 1830s, as well as a later volume entitled The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872. Conspicuously absent from his library is the major book between them: The Origin of Species.26 Church would certainly have been aware of the book’s claims. But, despite his passionate interest in science, it seems that the painter could not reconcile Darwin’s theory of evolution with his Protestant faith. And he certainly would never have intentionally created a Darwinian composition.Yet, in a strangely


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f i g u r e 23 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.

poignant paradox, it is his attempt at a visual tribute to Humboldt that brings him closer to Darwin. Darwin and Church are both, in a sense, too good at the details. Darwin looked too closely at too much for too long to deny what he observed: the brutal but beautiful process of natural selection. Church is brilliant at representing the natural world, and a kind of giddy enthusiasm for his own ability permeates The Heart of the Andes. Church pushes scientific realism to its limit. He exceeds Humboldt’s advice to the artist, and the result is a painting that tries to “say everything” and that therefore cannot be resolved into that “large and appealing thing.”27 The Heart of the Andes has no declarative focal point. The sky is nearly filled with darkened mountaintops and dense clouds, blocking the metaphoric possibility of heavenly transcendence. Shadows undulate across this space, giving the entire picture a dynamism and sense of temporality that contrasts with the eternal quality of The Andes of Ecuador, where the sun locks everything into place both compositionally and symbolically. A path extends out into the immediate foreground and offers a way into the painting (fig. 23). The paint is most worked up where the trail meets the edge of the canvas, white pigment applied in specks and short strokes to highlight this area and connect the eye to the wooden cross, which is also touched by bright white paint, farther down the path. Placed against the dark shadows, it is much more arresting than the stone cross camouflaged by vines in The Andes of Ecuador. But here the trail stops in a verdant mass of trees and climbing vines with vivid blue flowers, with no apparent continuation. In the middle ground, white buildings on the banks of a body of water are visible, among them what seems to be a mission, but because this church is so small and removed from any discernible path, it is easy to miss. Unlike in The

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fi g u r e 24 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95. fi g u r e 25 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.

Andes of Ecuador, there is no visible connection between foreground cross, middleground church, and atmospheric effect. The cross stands alone in The Heart of the Andes; symbolism does not extend beyond the single detail. The abrupt end of this bright, well-trod path is one of several indications that the painting is both engaging with and subverting landscape tradition. The eye is initially directed along the trail before encountering an astounding density of finely painted leaves at its terminus, a space in which we are invited to look around rather than to move through. One might visually retreat back along the path to find another way into (and through) the picture. Framing the scene to either side are two trees, or rather one dead tree at the left and a stand of trees clustered to the right, whose roots are exposed above the water. They bear little in common, but, like the path, they have passages of more thickly layered white paint to suggest strong illumination and, in the case of the trees, mottled white bark. These trees are striking violations of the repoussoir convention. Instead of anchoring the foreground and visually mediating the movement through the rest of the composition, Church’s trees move in their own aesthetic or narrative directions. To the right, three trees grow on a precariously shallow outcropping, eroded away to reveal the roots that no longer ground them (fig. 24). These roots form a twisted network of dark veins and arteries, bending and curling as if trying to find stability, their contortions highlighted by the lighter rose-tinted rocks behind them and the inlet of calm water beneath. The trees here no longer function as a pictorial directive but as specimens that demand time and consideration. They appear as though dissected, making what is normally out of sight visible. This is the part of the painting that also looks the most like drawing: Dürer-like thick and thin lines express the curve of the hand and the action of the wrist, creating forms that seem quite elemental, as if this were the underdrawing of the painting. The tree at the lower left is, by contrast, about the surface of the painting (fig. 25). Here Church has signed his canvas, “carving” the date, 1859, and his name,


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“F E Church,” into the trunk. If the artist’s signature usually marks a small moment of rupture where the illusion of three-dimensionality confronts writing on a flat plane, Church attempts to merge the two so that his inscription is read as part of the representational world. It is illuminated by an unseen light source and surrounded by a particularly diverse array of flora and fauna. An aroid vine with a single paper-white flower and yellow stamen grows on the trunk. An orchid plant with no buds emerges at the base.28 At least ten different types of leaves ranging from smooth to glossy and each one a different shape and shade of green, two yellow butterflies with identical black spots, and a bird that seems to be a male quetzal with its elaborate plumage all appear in this corner of the canvas (fig. 26). The quetzal is identifiable from his twin green tail feathers, blue body, and red breast, ornamentation that puzzled and frustrated Darwin and that led to his later theories of sexual selection outlined in The Descent of Man (1871). Church’s bird, and his signature, both draw the attention to a tree that is dead but that is nevertheless the site of abundant life. The quetzel in fact lays its eggs in the holes of rotten trees. Church’s signature is a version of “I was here” as well as “This is mine.” Placed in the immediate foreground, the illuminated name is more prominent than the cross farther along the trail. The sign of the individual precedes the icon of Christian salvation. The artist also references himself through the inclusion of a waterfall in the foreground of his composite picture, echoing Niagara in both subject and painterly technique: tiny flecks of bright white paint as drops of water, thin bands and crescent shapes indicating waves that are almost never unidirectional, blurred areas conveying speed and mist (fig. 27). The artist’s body of work and the artist’s body—his signature “on” the white bark—locate the self in this extravagant landscape. Subjectivity is highlighted over spiritual symbolism.

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f i g u r e 26 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95. f i g u r e 27 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.


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fi g u r e 28 Frederic Edwin Church, Study for “The Heart of the Andes,” 1858. Oil on canvas, 10 ¼ × 18 ¼ in. (26 × 46.4 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.47.

In the (possibly final) study for The Heart of the Andes from 1858, no path or signature appears in the foreground (fig. 28). As in The Andes of Ecuador, the most striking feature of this oil study is the sky; the white peak of Chimborazo draws the eye to the upper left of the canvas and to the only patches of blue in the picture. The light from this area spreads across the entire middle ground, through the brown, undulating hills of the Andean lowlands, and then illuminates the white stucco mission in the rear foreground before leading the eye down to the roiling waterfall at the front center. There is no path stretching out to the edge of the picture plane nor spotlit detail in the study. Instead, the entire foreground is cast in deep shadows. As a result, attention is immediately drawn upward into the atmosphere to the source of light amidst the sprawling range of mountain peaks. It is a fundamentally Claudian composition. Although the study conveys some of the final canvas’s profusion—the dense foreground foliage and the dark mass of mountains pressing up against thick cloud cover—the 1858 work still manages to create a clear optical path through these encroaching natural forces. The painting does not. In 1853, Church wrote to his father from the Rio Magdalena to describe the tropical landscape: “You can form no idea of the wonderful luxuriance of vegetation[.] Magnificent trees which spread out their immense branches to a prodigious extent are loaded down with vines in fact everything is covered in vines.”29 In The Heart of the Andes, moss and parasitic vines creep down from the arborous canopy, extending from the canvas’s uppermost


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edge and becoming even more exacting at the bottom corner (fig. 29). These are not just generalized plants; these are very specific types, each individuated from its neighbor. Here broad aroid leaves (Anthurium) are pocked with insect bites and fan out in all directions (fig. 30). To the left is a delicate white flower (Costus). Branches cast a precise tangle of shadows on an exposed rock (fig. 31). A morning glory vine (Ipomoea) with tiny violet blooms grows above it. Below are climbing red passion flowers (Passiflora) with their tripartite leaves and long, protruding filaments. Each and “every square inch of the canvas,” the Crayon both complained and marveled, is “covered with nature’s statistics.”30

t he natu r e of g od Church’s canvas provoked a dilemma for critics. Was the painting too committed to scientific veracity? Did it achieve aesthetic unity? Were these incompatible goals? The London Times declared that Church had “not sacrificed for any such details, however brilliant or tempting, the grandeur of his great whole.” Yet the same writer also admitted that many would disagree, finding that Church’s “so colossal a whole” relied too much on “so many incidents” and was therefore not sufficiently “imaginative.”31 The latter opinion echoes a reviewer who described The Heart of the Andes as an “incoherent jumble of incidents,” before going on to disparage its “melodramatic effect.”32 Almost all responses to the painting, regardless of their judgments, addressed the relationship between detail and effect. Some used this juxtaposition to offer ecstatic praise: Washington Irving called it “magnificent!—such grandeur of general effect with such minuteness of detail.”33 Others found fault. The Crayon, a journal published between 1855 and 1861 devoted to literature and the arts (and John Ruskin) and founded and edited by John Durand and William James Stillman, almost always found Church’s works problematic. The journal’s criticism was particularly stinging because Stillman had been Church’s pupil. “It is true that he always gives his detail specific character,” wrote Stillman of his teacher in one review, “but that is not enough. . . . It is not enough that his ferns and climbers should be recognized by the tropical botanist; it is imperative . . . that the hand shall appear to have been guided by Nature in every line it drew, or every tint it laid on.”34 Artists should look to Nature to find an essential truth, not to a plethora of truthful details. The essential tension at work here is between two concepts of nature or, more specifically, between which concept to emphasize in landscape painting. The “root of the difficulty,” writes J. Eliot Cabot in an Atlantic Monthly article entitled “On the Relation of Art to Nature,” “lies in this slippery phrase, Nature.”35 Church’s landscapes exemplified this difficulty. There is Nature, and then there is nature. Janice Simon usefully distinguishes between the two in her study of the Crayon. The journal, she argues, “viewed nature both empirically and Platonically.” Capitalized, the term “refers to the cosmic order as a whole, its governing principles, and its

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fi g u r e 29 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.

divine origins; that is, ‘Nature’ embodies Spirit,” while “nature” writ small “denotes the physical environment in all its complexity and minute detail.”36 Thus “Nature” versus “nature” becomes a distinction between wholeness, order, divinity, and transcendence, on the one hand, and microscopic complexity, empiricism, science, and physicality on the other. As Simon makes clear, these are not absolute differences, and intersections constantly occur to disrupt simple definitions. But this is, of course,


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what makes the struggle to define nature so compellingly similar to the struggle to define the function and significance of detail during the mid-nineteenth century. Were details, like “Nature,” proof of God, and science “the progressive disclosure of His soul,” as James Jackson Jarves stated in The Art-Idea (1864)?37 Or were the minutiae of the physical world fundamentally different from the divine, governed by different laws and shaped by different forces, as Darwin contended even through his syntax, by almost always keeping “nature” uncapitalized? “It is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature,” the scientist wrote while explicating one of the rare instances of the capitalized term, “but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws.”38 Here Nature is process and product, not a manifestation of God. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the study of the natural world was inextricably linked to the divine. Colleges in the United States began to hire scientists, as one historian notes, “not to conduct research or to develop new technologies, but to teach young students that nature, like history and scripture, revealed the perfections and sovereignty of God.”39 Scientists and theologians alike pursued the idea that nature provided evidence of a higher power. The Harvard geologist, zoologist, and paleontologist Louis Agassiz, who studied under Humboldt and would become one of Darwin’s staunchest and most famous critics, saw an essential commonality in nature’s staggering variety. “In one word,” he writes in Essay on Classification (1857), “all these facts, in their natural connection, proclaim aloud the One God.” The aim of natural history must therefore be “the analysis of the thoughts of the Creator of the Universe, as manifested in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, as well as in the inorganic world.”40 Natural history becomes a form of theology, a biography of the divine written by the scientist who collects and interprets all those things produced by God’s “thoughts.” 41

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f i g u r e 30 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95. f i g u r e 31 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.


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If science was a mode of religion in the nineteenth century, religion also became a form of science. American Protestantism, as Herbert Hovenkamp argues, “devised a ‘scientific’ theology that could prove anything.”42 Empiricism was thereby applied to the divine. Observing nature, studying collections, accumulating data—such were the means to better understand God. Nature could not merely be accepted as de facto proof of a higher power; the natural world would be examined and interrogated to find confirmation of God’s existence.Yet the more rigorous the observations, the more details that were discovered, the less convincing the connections became. While most Protestants saw a synergistic link between Christianity and science in 1800, by mid-century, reconciling religious beliefs with new biological and geological discoveries had become more challenging.43 Technological advances, such as the microscope’s increased magnification and clarity, enabled the investigation of what had previously been invisible. During the first half of the century, ideas and debates about evolution, particularly the presence or absence of God in species development, drew great attention. The publications of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology in the 1830s and Robert Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in the 1840s brought ideas about evolutionary theory to a wider audience. But it was Darwin’s book that threw down the gauntlet, presenting a brutal yet meticulously researched departure from more established theories of adaptation.44 As the century continued, faith became, once again, more subjective than empirical, more about feeling than facts. Frederic Church was raised a Protestant and remained a practicing religious man throughout his life. His family attended the conservative Central Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut. But as a young man, Church would be drawn to the city’s more liberal North Congregational Church, where Horace Bushnell was the pastor from 1833 to 1859.45 Bushnell was a prolific, influential, and at times controversial author of many theological texts, including Nature and the Supernatural, as Together Constituting One System of God (1858). As the title suggests, Bushnell argued for the essential complementarity of the natural and divine realms. Christianity was the “natural foster-mother of science,” and science “the certain handmaid of Christianity.” Religion cares for science, and science for religion but, in Bushnell’s metaphor, this is an artificial family tree. Science as the “foster” child is not the “natural,” or biological, descendent of religion.Yet a connection must be made. Christianity and science “must constitute one complete system of knowledge.” Details, however, are not part of this plan. The author ends the preface to a later edition by cautioning, “One who flies at mere points of detail, regardless of the whole to which they belong, can do nothing with a subject like this.”46 Church’s The Heart of the Andes was received as having both a vital religious and a scientific function. A critic for the New York Herald recommended going to see the painting “again and again” and contemplating it “with a real religious art feeling.” 47 Henry Ward Beecher, the liberal Congregationalist preacher, pastor of Brooklyn’s


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Plymouth Church, abolitionist, and social reformer (and supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution), reportedly declared that “it was a sin for any man in the country to miss seeing Church’s Heart of the Andes, when it could be inspected for twenty-five cents.” 48 The Reverend Theodore Cuyler called it “a picture for young men, . . . luxuriant in rapid growths.” The Niagara-like water that “plunges over a precipice” could be interpreted as “an allegory of the sensualist’s career.” Thus Cuyler warned (male) viewers that they must both resist the “seductive waves of temptation” that the painting offers while also reading the work of art in the proper way, as allegorizing (rather than advocating) the consequences of sinful behavior.49 Russell’s Magazine, meanwhile, found a more straightforward moral message in the canvas: “The deep meaning of nature, its purifying, elevating influences are profoundly felt in the presence of this truly religious work of art.”50 The Heart of the Andes was even the opening subject of a sermon delivered by the Reverend Dr. Richard Newton of Philadelphia’s St. Paul’s Church in the spring of 1860 while the painting was on view in the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Rather than attempting to find religious connotations or possible symbolism, rather than concentrating on what the picture is about, Newton speaks at length about how it should be seen. “It is an interesting thing to look upon a great painting, like that of ‘The Heart of the Andes,’ ” the preacher begins his sermon. You feel that the idea developed on the outspread canvas before you, is that of quiet sublimity, or grandeur in majestic and beautiful repose. . . . But while it is interesting to contemplate a work of Art as a whole, and take in the general effect of it, you cannot do justice to the painting, unless you go further than this.You must examine it in detail, as well as look at it as a whole.You must take a particular, as well as a general view of it. And when you begin to do this, you will find individual points of interest that call for special and undivided study and attention. Newton goes on to emphasize the importance of detail which, after a few paragraphs, he links to the Old Testament subject of his homily (the character of Abigail, wife of King David), noting that “there will be some special feature, or quality, stamped with peculiar province” on “a great character in history, whether that history be sacred or profane.”51 For Newton, the lesson of the painting, if there can be said to be one, is to look closely, to give “special & undivided study & attention” to an image as one should a person’s character. The Heart of the Andes necessitated a way of seeing in which paying attention to detail was as important as comprehending the whole. Refiguring the landscape’s visual pleasures as an instructive moral was then the work of the clergy. However, the painting itself—and particularly the painting as seen through opera glasses—resists such synthesis.

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chapter 3

Narrative Luxury c rowds f loc ked to see The Heart of the Andes (see fig. 22). Over a mere three-week period, more than twelve thousand people paid twenty-five cents each to view Church’s painting when it was first unveiled in New York City. The painting debuted in an exhibition hall on Broadway before being moved to the gallery at the Tenth Street Studio Building, where Church had begun renting a studio the year before.1 Several policemen had to be called in to keep the street clear.2 The picture was shown alone, in an elaborately carved black walnut shadowbox frame, surrounded by swags of jewel-toned fabric, and strikingly illuminated.3 Booklets were published about the painting, poems written, sermons given, and a musical score, a march by George William Warren, composed in its honor (see fig. 36). Announcements for The Heart of the Andes requested that visitors bring opera glasses to view the painting (fig. 32).4 Opera glasses provided a means to see the picture from afar amid the crowds of people while also cutting out the periphery— all those jostling bodies competing to see the landscape, as if they themselves were enacting the competition between details on Church’s canvas. The spectator was therefore invited to see the picture in several ways: as a whole, with the naked eyes, from a relative distance, and as isolated details from a magnified proximity. Each viewer could also move between part and whole, detail and effect, creating an evershifting narrative for the painting through the subjective act of looking. Opera glasses could provide an intimate sense of distance, putting the viewer more squarely in that representational world, even as they simultaneously established a physical and optical barrier between viewing subject and painted object. Many of the texts that addressed (and even accompanied) Church’s painting attempt to

Detail of f i g u r e 22

f i g u r e 32 Advertisement for the exhibition of The Heart of the Andes at the Boston Athenæum, Boston Daily Evening Transcript, January 11, 1860. Boston Athenæum.


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bridge this divide. These written works are based on ekphrasis, the linguistic evocation of the visual, and the transformation from image to text relies on the detail. At the same time that the picture took textual form, the canvas itself was being advertised and displayed as if it were a theatrical production, a shadowbox frame draped with fabric evoking a curtained stage. The way in which The Heart of the Andes was presented to the public was closely connected to new modes of consumer display. Details began to be associated with material things, and such associations bear economic, political, geographical, and even racial significance. Whereas Niagara found expression through the rhetoric of monumentality—a rhetoric predicated on forgetting—The Heart of the Andes works against forgetting. Details provide a more direct visual and material challenge.

g r as pi ng and cutting A shrewd businessman and self-promoter, Church employed an agent who took his celebrated canvas to eight U.S. cities following its debut in New York, as well as across the Atlantic to London. Mark Twain, then a young riverboat captain known only as Samuel Clemens, saw the canvas three times when it traveled to St. Louis in 1861, each time using opera glasses. “I have just returned,” he wrote to his brother, “from a visit to the most wonderfully beautiful painting which this city has ever seen—Church’s ‘Heart of the Andes.’ ” He proclaimed in his letter that it was “always a new picture—totally new—you seem to see nothing the second time which you saw the first.” While the composition may be “tame” and “ordinary-looking,” the details make increasing demands on his attention, each possessing “a marked and distinct personality.” By the final visit he is overwhelmed. Your third visit will find your brain gasping and straining with futile efforts to take all the wonder in. . . .You will never get tired of looking at the picture, but your reflections—your efforts to grasp an intelligible Something—you hardly know what—will grow so painful that you will have to go away from the thing, in order to obtain relief.You may find relief, but you cannot banish the picture—it remains with you still. It is in my mind now—and the smallest feature could not be removed without my detecting it. So much for the “Heart of the Andes.”5 Twain wishes he could forget. But “banish[ing]” even “the minutest object” becomes nearly impossible. There is no “one great idea” or “single blow” in the Reynoldsian sense. Rather, the painting regenerates itself upon each visit; it is “totally new” every time. Even Twain’s first sentence reflects the regenerative nature of the painting. In describing Church’s landscape, he writes that it “represents a lovely valley


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with its rich vegetation in all the bloom and glory of a tropical summer—dotted with birds and flowers and of all colors and shades of color, and sunny slopes, and shady corners, and twilight groves, and cool cascades—all grandly set off with a majestic mountain in the background with its gleaming summit clothed in everlasting ice and snow!”6 The repetitions of “all” and “and” syntactically reflect the painting’s proliferation of details. There is not a hierarchy of forms or a strict order. Details, on the page and on the canvas, appear contiguously and continually, the discovery of one detail leading to the glimpse of another, and then another after that. The painting offers an endless joining together of things, an “infinite process,” as another writer described it.7 But the viewer must make, in Twain’s terms, many increasingly “painful” efforts to “take all the wonder in,” all of which entail negotiating through the detail and none of which lead to the culminating realization of that “intelligible Something.” The painting, its details seen through opera glasses, defies easy comprehension. Twain’s language points to the difference between looking and interpreting, between seeing and knowing. Although “you will never get tired of looking at the picture,” that “intelligible” understanding remains painfully elusive. Visual “relief ” may be possible by simply “go[ing] away from the thing,” but intellectual relief is not as easy.You may stop “gasping,” but the mind will continue its “efforts to grasp” meaning. Forgetting even “the smallest feature” becomes nearly impossible. The landscape is “so much” to see that it can only, finally, be left behind: “So much for the ‘Heart of the Andes.’ ” This final phrase flirts with dismissal and yet, in the context of the letter, seems more like necessity. Even Twain’s attempt (literally and figuratively) at writing off the painting contains what remains in the mind: “so much.” His words reveal the painting’s visual power and the interpretive toll it exacts. Seeing in detail, epitomized by seeing with opera glasses, does not necessarily lead to greater understanding. This is a critical point about Church’s picture, and about the potentially paradoxical role detail can assume in visual art. Georges Didi-Huberman provocatively explores this question of detail and knowledge, or rather the difference between knowing and looking. “We can never know, heuristically speaking, how to look at a painting,” he writes. “That’s because knowing and looking absolutely don’t have the same mode of being.” And yet, notes Didi-Huberman, when confronting a painting an art historian will often say, “‘I haven’t seen it enough; to know something more about it, now I ought to see it in detail.’ ” 8 What, then, is the burden that we place on details? Why do we assume that seeing in greater detail will lead to greater knowledge? According to Didi-Huberman, “to detail” means first to get close, then to cut up—as if “this intimacy entails some violence”—and finally to put together. Paradoxically, one “gets closer the better to cut up, and cuts up the better to make whole.”9 The very word “detail,” as earlier noted, originates from the French verb

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détailler whose root, tailler, means “to cut.” To describe a painting in detail is to feel, very personally, the effects of such cutting apart. Gaston Bachelard characterizes the detail as marked by an “intimate conflict that it can never wholly pacify,”10 which Didi-Huberman elaborates: “It’s as if the describing subject, in the very ‘tearing-topieces’ movement that constitutes the operation of the detail, instead of proceeding to the serene reciprocity of a totalization, redirected despite himself and onto himself the first, violent act of disintegration. A cognitive subject cutting up the visible the better to totalize, but undergoing himself the effect of such a scission.”11 The attempt to grasp an interpretable whole, to find a satisfying and significant meaning, entails tearing apart the work of art. But how to put it back together again? For viewers like Twain, The Heart of the Andes seemed to resist cohesion. Like Didi-Huberman’s art historian, Twain begins by wanting “to know something more” about Church’s painting and so looks at it in ever greater detail, goes to see it again and again. In describing the picture, he is “cutting up the visible the better to totalize.” In the process, however, Twain finds his own language repeatedly challenged and even threatened by all that detail. Despite himself, he cannot make Church’s picture whole again; he cannot return to the simple serenity of that “wonderfully beautiful painting,” nor can he remove those details from his mind when they refuse to become an “intelligible Something.” Like small shards of glass or difficult memories, they remain embedded in his consciousness, causing the pain that is, in a sense, the cost of detail.

wr i ti n g the image As if it were possible to “write” the painting back together again, other authors of the time attempted to resolve the conflicts perceived in Church’s work through their prose. In their booklets sold at exhibitions of The Heart of the Andes, Theodore Winthrop, one of Church’s close friends, and Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, Thomas Cole’s biographer and Church’s travel companion, each attempt to describe every part of the painting, while also trying to argue for a transcendent and edifying effect. Early in Winthrop’s A Companion to The Heart of the Andes, the author declares that “life is too short for descriptive painting. . . . We want to know from a master what are the essentials, the compact, capital, memorable fact.” But he then promptly divides the image into ten regions, including “The Glade and the right foreground” and “The Road and the left foreground.”12 For forty-three pages the author undertakes a classification of Church’s painting whereby each region is individually considered and meticulously described. Winthrop presents his text as a primer on how to look at art for the uninitiated American viewer. “A great work of art is a delight and a lesson,” he states in the second paragraph. But what exactly is the lesson? Judging art, Winthrop claims, is a matter of nature, not culture. It could in fact be to their advantage that Americans


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have so little knowledge of art, since “we may have much to learn, but we have little to unlearn.” Yet The Heart of the Andes proves a difficult painting to teach from. He does not actually mention the painting, or commit to any description of it, until the sixth page. The first several pages are spent lost in metaphors ranging from the natural—the artist “demands not husks nor pith, but kernel”—to the stunningly fantastical—“The inmost spirit of beauty is not to be discerned by dodging about and waiting until the doors of her enchanted castle shall stand ajar. The true knight must wind the horn of challenge, chop down the ogre, garrote the griffon, hoist the portcullis with a petard, and pierce to the shrine, deaf to the blandishments of the sirens. Then when he has won his bride, the queen, he must lead her beauty forth for the world’s wonderment, to dazzle and inspire.” After all of this, the writer paradoxically declares, turning to the canvas itself: “A look can read it.”13 Winthrop was dubbed a “word-painter.”14 George Templeton Strong found Winthrop’s text on The Heart of the Andes “polysyllabic . . . like the ravings of Ruskin in delirium tremens.”15 John Ruskin himself had lamented that it was “the chief provocation of my life to be called a ‘word painter’ instead of a thinker.”16 While claiming that Church gets straight to those essential facts, that “life is too short for descriptive painting,” 17 Winthrop himself seems unable to resist the lure of evocative description, as commentaries on the book make clear: Section by section, part by part, lovingly, [Winthrop] describes every inch of the composition, dwells lingeringly on its details, gives whole chapters to the foreground, the middle distance, the summit of the mountain, the sky, etc., analyzing, commenting, drawing attention to every minute particular of drawing, color, etc., until he reaches the climax of enthusiasm in the final panegyric, and winds up with a superb peroration, a dazzling outburst of verbal pyrotechnics.18 Profusion and control mark both the painting itself and the commentary about it. Midway through his exposition, Winthrop declares that “detail is suggested, and yet suppressed” in The Heart of the Andes, although he then states that “you may perceive or divine every line of sinking surface.”19 As Winthrop continues, his text also becomes more and more about the strangeness and ambiguities of Church’s painting. It is very clear that “a look” cannot “read it.” Both Winthrop and Noble seem to expect that examining the details of Church’s painting, “cutting up the visible” like Didi-Huberman’s art historian, will lead to greater comprehension. Their language revels in the details, but becomes strained when the parts must then be coaxed into a whole. Winthrop continually divides the picture, into both details and regions, attempting to take apart the

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picture through an act of “word-painting” so as to make it more legible. Noble tries to connect “landscape-painting” with “landscape-making by the instrumentalities of the Creator,” yet his essay is, page by page, more and more focused on Church’s “countless details.”20 Noble, who would later accompany Church to the Arctic Circle, begins his pamphlet by declaring an equivalency between detail and effect in nature and detail and effect in painting. Having a “thorough knowledge of the minutiae of nature” enables an artist to pictorially represent the landscape. All those details on canvas, as in nature, combine to create “grand effects.” Noble’s prose has a didactic tone, and early passages are full of dry and legalistic phrases: “enter into,” “producing causes,” “controlling laws,” “modifying influences.” He writes: “Minute facts and countless details enter into, and conspire to produce, grand pictorial effects. Why? Because facts and details enter into, and conspire to produce, grand effects in nature. Thorough knowledge of the minutiae of nature must be obvious. And so the first and last necessity of landscape art is the knowledge of facts, of their producing causes, controlling laws, and modifying influences.”21 In a painting, Noble argues, details produce larger effects. Natural facts are equated with pictorial details. Knowledge of the details, Noble claims, produces knowledge of the whole. But as the essay continues, his system of comprehending the painting begins to break down. The notion that details “conspire to produce” certain effects points to an interesting tension in Noble’s essay. Is Church producing these effects, or are the details out of his control, creating an experience of the painting that is somehow different from—or even diametrically opposed to—the artist’s intention? Noble’s word choice carries an uncomfortable sense of authority. Who, or what, has agency here? The juxtaposition of verbs further confuses the issue. To “conspire to produce” denotes a purpose and a plan that to “enter into” (the phrase that directly precedes it) lacks. But Noble avoids such critical distinctions by conjoining the terms with a simple “and.” The question of the intentionality is left unanswered. The simple equation that is meant to answer the question of detail only reveals the complexity at work. Noble initially tries to stay as close to the “facts” of the picture as possible. He describes the volcanoes of Ecuador, the mountains, the valleys, the tropical scenery. But he is not detailing the actual painting here. He admits this after a couple of pages, asking the reader to (re)interpret those previous paragraphs as referring to Church’s picture, although he had been describing Church’s South American travels. So he then sets out “to describe more literally.” Yet the next sentence seems to promise just the opposite: “Imagine yourself,” he exhorts the reader, “late in the afternoon with the sun behind you, to be traveling up the valley. . . .” This is where the descriptive details really begin. He describes not only what he can see, but also what he cannot see, and what he wishes to imagine. There is the “fertile soil, knitted


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and compacted with roots . . . beneath its burden of juicy plants and grasses, shrubs and ferns.” And later, the stream, which “you may take . . . in imagination, and follow it down.” Again and again Noble insists that all these parts make a whole: Yet so wondrously do the parts, minute and countless as they are, run up and blend into one live whole. The light . . . the spaces . . . the atmosphere . . . linking all confusion into order, blending all parts into, running up an infinity of things into one living organic whole, and leading the mind into the presence of the Maker. Here is a picture of the grandest design, singularly original, singularly simple and perspicuous . . . a multitude of parts dispersed in a way and to an extent utterly perilous to any but the largest intellectual grasp, yet with all its plentitude unified and harmonized as completely as the very best of the Artist’s cabinet pictures. Yet Noble also repeatedly emphasizes the visual confusion that the painting instills. How the eye “lingers and expatiates, loitering here—hastening there—losing itself in the fields of shade—darting off into the upper fields of light” and finally getting “lost in the complexity of tree and foliage, darting from top to top, or wandering in the endless greenery below.” “A little world of the beautiful,” the writer calls the painting, in which Church “gathers rules of composition for himself.”22 Here we might return to Schor’s warning: “There is always the danger that to write of the detail is to become lost in it.”23 The painting’s details seem, at times, unwilling or unable to conform to the writer’s narrative. Noble describes “heavily-wooded mountains . . . richly clothed with trees and all the appendage of the forest,” which he parenthetically admits are “not visible in the picture.” However, his scenery is not entirely invented; the mountains are signified by “the foot of each jutting into view.”24 Such visual (and textual) moments raise the problem of the marginal detail. What about those small things that are only partially visible and pushed to the edges? What about those details that cannot easily be explained, that may seem strangely insignificant?

t hi ng s Roland Barthes, in his essay “The Reality Effect,” asks this question: “Is everything in narrative significant, and if not, if insignificant stretches subsist in the narrative syntagm, what is ultimately, so to speak, the significance of this insignificance?” If “description” is “purely summatory,” “narrative” provides “choices and alternatives,”

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fi g u r e 33 Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, 1862. Oil on canvas, 48 × 85 in. (121.9 × 215.9 cm). Detroit Institute of Art, Founders Society Purchase.

giving “the appearance of a huge traffic-control center.” But what if not everything settles easily into its given place? What if, “even more disturbing”—to quote Barthes again—the details “seem to correspond to a kind of narrative luxury, lavish to the point of offering many ‘futile’ details and thereby increasing the cost of narrative information”? 25 The Heart of the Andes is Church’s most “disturbing” act of “narrative luxury.” While details in other large tropical pictures flirt with excess, they are ultimately subordinated to a central feature or defining effect—the globe of the sun and allencompassing light in The Andes of Ecuador, a cloud of smoke in Cotopaxi (fig. 33), the full curve of a rainbow in Rainy Season in the Tropics (see fig. 69). These are pictures that conform more to Cole’s version of the sublime, works that “veil . . . the common details.” But in The Heart of the Andes, a different mode of visuality is at work. The use of opera glasses allowed spectators to become participants, moving through the “lavish” details, exploring the “choices and alternatives,” and uncertainties, that the painting provides, constructing their own narratives in the process. Marginal details, as Noble found, make demands on the attention and complicate order. Viewing means discovering not narrative structure but “narrative information”: details that seem more “futile” than useful, that resist summation and indulge the eye.26 Luxury, then, can be seen as having two meanings. First, in the Barthesian sense, luxury signifies narrative excess, details that increase the cost of narrative


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information. Secondly, in the more traditional sense that Barthes’s language plays with, luxury refers to the enjoyment of the best and most costly things, those potentially rare and precious objects that offer pleasure far beyond necessity. This is the initial delight of “gasping,” to use Twain’s term, while the connotation of excess in Barthes’s definition provides the other, and more traumatic, element of Twain’s response to The Heart of the Andes: “grasping.” The opera glasses may have brought the details of the painting visually into focus, but seeing “so much” means knowing, or possessing, comparatively little. Americans had strongly conflicting feelings about materialism and possession during the mid-nineteenth century, and these feelings permeate The Heart of the Andes and the responses to the picture. Noble spends a great deal of time lavishly describing the painting, while also trying to justify such lavishness: “Wooly mosses creeping up, fleece the large-rooted, full-bodied trees, which grasp the ground with a right sturdy hold, that answers to their well-limbed, large tops, now gilt with sunshine. Look up along the healthy bark, with its lichens. How soberly vested, and yet how richly!”27 The description verges on the erotic, but Noble is careful to assure the reader that the trees are still “soberly vested.” Visual delectation is connected with moral fortitude. But this passage, as in other areas of Noble’s text, is at odds with the painting itself. The most prominent trees in The Heart of the Andes are indeed the most lavishly painted—cool white, soft green, and fleshy pink patches construct the bark of the central tree at the right and, like the spotlit trunk on the left, serve to draw the attention. And yet they hardly “grasp the ground with a right sturdy hold.” The tree at the left is dead and lacks limbs (see fig. 25); those at the right are on a radically eroded bank, their roots completely exposed, holding nothing (see fig. 24). They appear like arthritic fingers in search of stable ground. Noble seems willing to account for a kind of “healthy” indulgence in the painting, but prefers to ignore the more precarious elements. Other responses to the painting reveal a similar discomfort with its sensuousness. The Atlantic Monthly assured its readers, in its review of The Heart of the Andes, that “we Americans, amidst the confusion and stir of material interests, are not inattentive to the progress [of the arts].”28 Culture is placed here in opposition to the “confusion” of materialism. Landscape painting was often lauded as a visual tonic to the strains of modern life. During the late 1850s, the Crayon repeatedly ran articles that, as Janice Simon notes, “endorsed the curative effects of landscape scenery on the ‘diseased’ commercial soul.” The journal also advocated a Ruskinian truth to nature that demanded a strict allegiance to natural facts. As Simon argues, “It is as if an art rich in natural detail redeemed materialism from its sinful essence.”29 Yet the line between artistic material fact and commercial materialism was difficult to delineate. Henry James elided the two when describing Church’s “velvety vistas” and “gem-like vegetation” in his 1875 review.30 Writers like Adam

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Badeau criticized the Pre-Raphaelites—John Ruskin’s exemplars of fidelity to nature—for their “worship of the material.” Rather than depicting nature and its ideal, they presented, according to Badeau, merely a “careful delineation of trivialities.”31 An intense struggle was developing around this time between an emerging consumer culture that made tantalizing promises and a fear of the insubstantial and even sinful nature of a society built on such material concerns.32 Americans “need the thing”—as a review of The Heart of the Andes in the Atlantic Monthly stated—but they didn’t want too many things. “Materialism has too great weight with us,” Adam Badeau stated.33 Church, one critic suggested, had a habit of “crushing himself beneath his subject.”34 In Art Thoughts (1869), James Jackson Jarves expressed wariness about “sensational landscapists” like Church whose canvases constructed “speculations in art on principles of trade.” By contrast, deeply held Puritan ethics emphasized plainness and transparency.35 “The genius of American life,” declared Harriet Beecher Stowe, who, perhaps paradoxically, kept a print of one of Church’s tropical paintings on her wall, “is for simplicity and absence of adornment.”36 Such material morality was increasingly difficult to translate into mid-nineteenth-century American culture. Natural facts were not necessarily symbols of spiritual facts, the equivalence Ralph Waldo Emerson had made in Nature (1836).37 In Walt Whitman’s poem of 1860, “Of the Terrible Question of Appearances,” the things of the world had become mutable and even unknowable. Of the doubts, the uncertainties after all, That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all, That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable only, May-be the things I perceive—the animals, plants, men, hills, shining and flowing waters, The skies of day and night—colors, densities, forms—May-be these are, (as doubtless they are,) only apparitions, and the real something has yet to be known, (How often they dart out of themselves, as if to confound me and mock me! How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows, aught of them;)38 Whitman desires to know that “real something” but wonders if all the “things” of the world around him are “only apparitions,” the products of individual perception rather than an immutable substance. The first lines of the next poem in this 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass seem to respond even more directly to this cultural anxiety: “Long I thought that knowledge alone would suffice me—O if I could but obtain knowledge!”39 The “terrible question of appearances” is that there may only


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be appearances; identity and meaning must be created by the individual. Whitman’s skepticism about vision and knowledge gives his poems a sense of both disorientation and ecstatic liberation, heightened by the fact that they reject traditional rhyme and meter. The reviewer for the Atlantic Monthly, by contrast, tries to find that “real something” behind those many “things” in The Heart of the Andes. He reasons that Americans “need the thing” and, in Church’s painting, “we have it; no spectral cloud-pile, but a real Chimborazo, with the hoar of eternity upon its scalp.”40 This “thing” is what Whitman perceives but doubts—those elements of the world that can be touched and seen and described. The Atlantic Monthly author searches for an ethics that would explain an American desire for those things. The writer searches, in other words, for that “real something.” This provides an essential distinction between two types of “things.” The first type is often equated in contemporary discussions with “details.” These are the “things” that appear materially or are visually graspable and that have an intimate, and at times troubling, connection with the physical world. These are also things as commodities, populating department stores as well as Charles Dickens’s novels, necessitating the production of new words in the second half of the nineteenth century to describe “thingness” either more particularly or more generally: gadget, dingus, thingamajig, jigger.41 The second type is the “real something,” or what Twain calls “an intelligible Something,” which could conceptually bind together all those individual things. But Twain and Whitman, as well as Thoreau, find a disturbing incompatibility between the two types. Twain expresses this as a breakdown between perception and conceptualization. Thoreau worries about the blinding specificity of scientific inquiry. Whitman most explicitly states the problem as a cultural condition: “How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,” what he sees. The writer for the Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, endeavors to explain why Americans “need the thing.” The desire reveals a “Yankee knowingness, its clear, intellectual power, with its delicate sentiment and strong self-reliance.” Church’s details—all those things—are equated with a pragmatic intellect and temperament. It is “ours,” the reviewer concludes, speaking as much about the painting as the mode of thought that created it. “We delightfully feel that it belongs to us, and that we are of it.”42 The author ignores the question of appearances, preferring to link the details of The Heart of the Andes to a Puritan work ethic, giving them a historical identity and validity while also claiming this South American landscape as an indigenous North American production. Such a need for legitimization points to the central and unstable place of the thing in American culture during this period.43 Was it revelatory or superfluous? How should art respond to what Whitman called the city’s “shifting tableaux, your spectacles,” and “the bright windows, with goods in them”?44

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vi s ual consumption, material excess With its emphasis on elusive possession, an excess of choice, and the delights of viewing many things, The Heart of the Andes creates visual appeal using the nascent logic and language of consumer culture. Through the simulated proximity provided by the opera glasses, the mid-century American viewer would be given the illusion of grasping the painting’s many parts, while remaining at a distinct remove. This is the function of vision in the new marketplace, epitomized by the department store window. While the emergence of an American “consumer culture” is traditionally dated to the late nineteenth century, Jackson Lears has convincingly argued that the transformation began earlier in the century.45 It was in the early to mid-nineteenth century that an economy rooted in home production began to be based instead on store consumption. And the most important new outlet for consumption was the department store, with its windows devoted to the tantalizing display of goods.46 In 1846, Alexander Turney Stewart (who later purchased Church’s Niagara Falls from the American Side) opened his Marble Dry-Goods Palace on Broadway in New York, offering a wide range of merchandise under a single roof at a set price affordable to the middle class. Anyone was permitted to come inside to browse, which was a key factor in the store’s success. And any passerby could browse from outside as well; merchandise was showcased in the store’s oversized French windows. A. T. Stewart’s was followed by Macy’s, which first opened in 1858 on Sixth Avenue near 14th Street, approximately four blocks from Church’s studio. The display of things and the presentation of the self through clothing and accessories became a more entrenched aspect of middle-class life in the 1840s and 50s.47 The Marble Palace, the biggest building in New York City at the time, sold imported European clothes and wares to women and offered “fashion shows” in the “Ladies’ parlor” with full-length mirrors. No longer did “dry-goods” simply imply bolts of fabric which, after purchase, would be made into clothing by the lady of the house, or her dressmaker. A. T. Stewart’s now carried ready-to-wear items. In 1862, Stewart opened a new location on Broadway known as the Cast Iron Palace that more closely resembled the modern-day department store, with eight floors covering a full city block, nearly two thousand employees, and nineteen departments ranging from dresses to toys to carpets. The interior was decorated with “oriental” motifs. Organ music entertained the customers. A central rotunda and a domed glass skylight integrated the vast space and countless wares, while also offering a more visually pleasurable shopping experience. It was, at the time, the largest retail store in the world.48 Spectacle, commodity, and capitalism were inextricably intertwined.49 A. T. Stewart’s monumental structure joined other retailers on this stretch of lower Broadway, which would become known as the “Ladies’ Mile,” and included such enduring retail giants as Lord & Taylor, a store known specifically for its


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window displays.50 Before relocating there, Lord & Taylor had been on Broadway and Grand Street, in a building that had opened in that pivotal year 1859, about a dozen blocks from Church’s studio and the exhibition venue for The Heart of the Andes. Art dealers that often showed his work, including Williams & Stevens and Goupil, were also in the area, and passersby would gather around those windows to look at the paintings on display. Such windows, one editor noted, had supplanted the group exhibitions at the Art-Union.51 A. T. Stewart’s Cast Iron Palace was just a few blocks from the Tenth Street Studio building, and both were near Grace Church, as a stereograph from the time commemorates (fig. 34). A writer for The Spirit of the Times made sure to connect these sites of pleasure, culture, and worship as he describes his journey to see Church’s painting. “Determined to visit this celebrated picture, we bent our steps up Broadway, and at the ultima thule of business we found Tenth-street . . . Grace Church . . . and farther west . . . ‘The Heart of the Andes.’ ”52 Spiritual, aesthetic, and consumer offerings all vied for attention on Broadway in 1859. The exhibition of The Heart of the Andes thus coincided with the early emergence of the American department store—that temple to consumerism. Both invited new ways of looking; both can be tied to a new language of capital. Only the wealthiest could expect to look at and possess the goods displayed in those store windows, much less the painting so many paid twenty-five cents to see. The Heart of the Andes, purchased for $10,000, the highest price yet paid for an American painting, was bought by a New York manufacturing and real estate tycoon.53 Lower Manhattan was quickly becoming a destination for art and shopping, just as it had already been for entertainment. In an 1860 article entitled “Memory Pictures,” in the Southern Literary Messenger, the author muses on the rich consumer possibilities of Broadway before seamlessly transitioning into a discussion of Church’s painting:

f i g u r e 34 A.T. Stewart’s Building and Grace Church, New York City, c. 1862. Stereograph, Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

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The ever moving dioramas of Broadway. The rows of shops, rich with the industry of countless hands, and gay with the fabrics of all hands—the gold and the silver, and the gems at Tiffany’s, realizing the tales of childhood, when diamonds, rubies and pearls hung upon the trees of the Orient, and came to the possession at the bidding of magicians and fairies. How pleasant the hours spent in the picture galleries of New York! We had the happiness of seeing at one of the exhibition rooms Church’s last painting— “The Heart of the Andes.” . . .You receive the same impression of the infinity of nature as when sitting upon a grassy bank you look upon the numberless interlacing plants with their minute blossoms just under your eye.54 Both the gems at Tiffany’s and the blossoms of The Heart of the Andes inspire a fantasy of possession. In the shops of Broadway, one could see jewels reminiscent of a fairytale. In the adjacent picture galleries, Church’s canvas visually evoked the infinity of the natural world. All this appeared “just under your eye” and yet remained out of reach. Whitman writes of “Looking in at the shop-windows in Broadway the whole forenoon . . . pressing the flesh of my nose to the thick plate-glass.”55 The prominent theologian and social activist Henry Ward Beecher, in the essay “Object Lessons,” observed that Americans had “trained their eyes to take in at a glance, from a shop-window, from a store full of varieties, from the face of books in a library, the greatest number of things.”56 Here surfaces are always new and endlessly appealing, but they also refuse solidity and easy intelligibility, as Whitman found. A stable and comprehensible whole could not be grasped. Instead, the viewerconsumer sees himself seeing and thinking. In “looking at the picture,” Twain finds his own “reflections.” In looking at the city, Whitman sees himself. The Heart of the Andes, like Whitman’s poetry, makes the process of thought itself visible.

north a nd south In 1864, Church’s South American picture was exhibited with an explicit sense of national purpose (fig. 35). At New York’s Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, a benefit to raise money for soldiers injured during the Civil War, The Heart of the Andes was displayed below three presidential portraits: John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. With the Founding Fathers positioned above—to the north of—Church’s South American landscape and swaths of fabric draped around the four paintings, a broader union seems to be suggested. Manifest destiny, that notion of divinely ordained westward expansion, is here extended South.57 The “North,” signified by a triad of male luminaries, exists as part of the “South,” Church’s Andean painting. But


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f i g u r e 35 Detail of “The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Church, as Exhibited at the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, NewYork, April 1864. Stereograph, negative no. 61263, New-York Historical Society.

there is a hierarchy here: the South may be larger and more detailed, but its sprawling terrain comes under a Northern gaze. The North colonizes the South, which can be seen as both South America and the South below the Mason-Dixon line. A jungle of botanical specimens is brought under the direction of the Founding Fathers. Thus the landscape—which was again and again described as “luxurious” and “rich”58—is dominated by the images of three stern white men with powdered wigs, dark attire, and similarly staid poses. Their portraits exert a kind of pressure on The Heart of the Andes. They loom above it, weighing it down by imposing a patriotic discourse, bringing the profusion of tropical details into a clear paternal lineage. American South and southern hemisphere are conjoined, but carefully subordinated to historical patriarchy. With enveloping swags of fabric and presidents presiding, the South is brought back into the fold in this wartime installation.

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A nationalistic element was thus literally “added” to Church’s painting. But while the presidential portraits may give The Heart of the Andes the patriotic weight of Niagara, which was also on view at the fair, the very need for an addition seems to admit the tropical landscape’s shortcomings as a “monumental” statement of nationhood. At a fair organized to help rehabilitate the nation, The Heart of the Andes instead points to the union’s ill health, its display attempting to create a monumental whole from several different canvases. Critics even framed The Heart of the Andes in social terms that found, in all that botanical detail, a threat to order. The trees, one wrote, were the “old aristocrats of the woods overrun and borne down by a whole democracy of climbing plants; an infinite entanglement and confused embracement.”59 With Adams, Washington, and Jefferson placed above the South American landscape, a tenuous hierarchy is constructed. In a sense, The Heart of the Andes and Niagara are pendants, and the two paintings operate dialectically. Niagara offers the North American landscape, The Heart of the Andes pictures the South American. Niagara extends horizontally, and invites the viewer to read the painting in the same manner. The Heart of the Andes is constructed on a more vertical axis and privileges depth over linearity. Niagara was read as a unified whole, The Heart of the Andes as a painting of endless proliferation. One “turn[ed] for solace to the grand, solemn Shores of Niagara,” the Continental Monthly noted, while one “wander[ed] amid the tangled luxuriance of the Heart of the Andes.” The Andean painting was “too bewildering in its complicated grandeur to excite dreams of beauty.”60 Or, to quote a less complimentary critic, it was, simply, “an incoherent jumble.”61 The Heart of the Andes is, in a sense, a national landscape by being a southern landscape—a “confused embracement” of both the southern hemisphere and the southern United States. Thus it is a sectional painting by being a continental painting. This is not, of course, to say that Church had confederate sympathies—he was a staunch Unionist—but rather to say that his painting engages in contemporaneous geopolitical issues and stereotypes. Luxury and decadence were traits often associated with the Southern states, and with the basis of the southern economy— the institution of slavery—as well. In his poem “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing” from Leaves of Grass (1855), Walt Whitman describes a lone oak that “glistens” with strands of moss hanging down from its branches, “uttering joyous leaves of dark green.” The tree is “rude, unbending, lusty.” 62 Not only is this an apt characterization of the South as many Northerners saw it, but Whitman’s poetic form bears further comparison to Church’s painting. The poet was criticized for his free verse and the organic structure that his poems took. Many readers found the poems decadent and disturbing. Like the moss-covered trees in the foreground of The Heart of the Andes—described by Theodore Winthrop as “full-bodied,” “welllimbed,” and “richly” covered with lichen—the poems in Leaves of Grass have a


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“lusty,” sexualized quality that made them both alluring and foreign, enticing and dangerous. No signs of decadence or danger are apparent in a piece of music composed in honor of Church’s painting, titled “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’: Marche di Bravura” (fig. 36), by George William Warren.63 Warren was a friend of the painter and a well-known composer at the time. His “National Hymn” was, according to music historian Robert Offergeld, “one of the great modern Protestant processionals.” Thus it is not surprising that Warren’s homage to The Heart of the Andes is not at all

f i g u r e 36 Cover of George William Warren, Homage to Church’s Picture,“The Heart of the Andes”: Marche di Bravura, The Andes (New York: William A. Pond, 1863). Lithograph, 9 ³⁄₁₆ × 7 ½ in. (23.3 × 19.1 cm). Olana Sheet Music Collection, Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1983.279.

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Andean, but rather has the up-tempo pace, boisterous chords, and unapologetic bombast of an American march. Louis Moreau Gottschalk adapted Warren’s score for two pianos while the composers were at a lavish party at the home of William T. Blodgett, the owner of Church’s painting, and both the painting and the musical rendition became the talk of the Manhattan elite for weeks.64 Here, in a sense, is another conversion. Church’s Andean painting, with its tangled vines and multivalent connotations of the South, is converted by Warren, a composer of Protestant processionals, to a simple, declarative, celebratory march. Quick crescendos, impressive arpeggios, and a forceful (and oft-repeated) refrain mark the score. The music has an insistent quality, as if it were trying to convince the listener that The Heart of the Andes could be seen, and interpreted, in such an unequivocal way. Church had, in fact, written to Warren about the native music while traveling through the Andes on his second trip in 1857. “The Natives have some peculiar music and instruments. The Music is handed down from the Incas.”65 Needless to say, the compositional format of a march and the use of the piano were not the “peculiar music and instruments” that Church had heard. Warren sanitizes Church’s picture, cleaning up the Whitmanesque moss, clearing pathways through the trees, removing the natives and their church. There is a curious racial component to this as well. In an 1863 article entitled “Pen, Pallet, and Piano,” the author discusses Church’s paintings and Gottschalk’s performing style, but spends several initial paragraphs connecting the exoticism of The Heart of the Andes to African-American music. While “linger[ing] under the shade of the palm,” the writer imagines hearing “the rude chant of the negro” and his “grotesque” song. The tropics then take on a menacing quality. Those “rich, glossy leaves” may conceal “malaria lurking” under them. One may find, in the “exaggerated proportions and venomous nature of all creeping things,” a source of “disgust and loathing.” The flowers may be “fair to the eye” but “deadly” to touch or taste. Although there is “poetic tenderness,” there is also “useless profusion.” Here the author contrasts the melody that is born out of the tropics’ “passionate languor” with the northern, puritanical suspicion of “musical indulgence.” The black man represents the personification of such indulgence: “the only creature frivolous enough to indulge in vain caroling.”66 While the North is too puritanical to develop “musical genius,” the South— by which the author implies the southern states, the enslaved people who inhabit them, as well as the South American tropics portrayed by Church’s painting— occupies the other end of the spectrum. The tension is particularly relevant when considering that the article was written at the height of the Civil War. The adjectives that the author uses—“rich,” “exaggerated,” “grotesque,” “venomous,” “passionate,” “frivolous,” “vain,” “useless,” and “deadly”—convey an excessive and mordant quality. The tropics, like the African-American ballads, are imagined as both captivating and threatening.


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t he s tak es of r ealism, or, t he r i s k of bli n dness Nineteenth-century viewers of Church’s painting confronted a very large canvas in a truly massive frame. By one scholar’s calculation, it would have measured over twelve feet high and fourteen feet wide.67 This shadowbox frame was both welcomed as offering the painted scene a sense of real space and dismissed as a “Barnumesque” ploy. “Artifice does not fraternize with Art,” the latter critic admonished.68 It is tempting to parse such responses by pitting populist against elitist sentiments: the public’s love of illusion and adornment versus a more connoisseurial desire to see “Art” without adornment. But this seems like an unhelpful paradigm, and one more reflective of modernism’s (or Greenberg’s) privileging of the autonomous artwork than of an earlier aesthetic model. The differing responses seem better understood in terms of the uncertain relationship between art and the viewing subject. Should a painting attempt to reach beyond its two-dimensional limitations? This returns us to the problem that critics often had with Church’s art: the conflation of ideal and real, which is to say, the stakes of realism. Is the ultimate aim of realism a conceptual ideal or a mimetic effect? Both Niagara and The Heart of the Andes initially communicate to the viewer through the latter. Niagara places the viewer at the edge of the cataract, identifying with the tree trunk held slightly aloft on a wave of white spray or temporarily immobilized by a rock underneath. In The Heart of the Andes, the frame, rather than the point of view, provides the most immediate connection between two- and three-dimensional worlds. Sometimes a detail seems more connected to the frame, and the space in front of the canvas, than the canvas itself. This is most notably the case with the tree that rises up from the center of the lower edge of the picture (fig. 37). It appears cropped by the frame. Much of it remains out of sight, indicating a steep drop to the ground confirmed by the rushing water about to head over the precipice. Such a tree and waterfall might recall the trunk in Niagara, but in the latter painting the representational elements are carefully integrated. In The Heart of the Andes, the tree seems detached from the rest of the painting, making a claim on the viewer’s physical space while also leading us to consider what cannot be seen. The tree creates a stereoscopic effect, pushing out from the immediate “background” of water and reddish rock, the spatial illusion emphasized by the flecks of white dotting the left side of the trunk with the right side painted darker greens and browns. Arriving to see the painting with opera glasses in hand, spectators encountered a picture that incorporates, in its very composition, the properties of a different optical device: the stereoscope. The stereoscope was an enormously popular optical device at mid-century. This viewing apparatus created the illusion of three-dimensionality using two nearly identical images printed side-by-side (the stereograph),

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fi g u r e 37 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95.

placed behind a lens, and held close to the eyes. The foreground is thereby made almost tangible, but also seems divorced from the background; the background appears closer, and yet detached. There is no sense of a gradual recession or middle ground. The tree at the lower edge provides the most striking stereoscopic effect in The Heart of the Andes, but other elements also contribute to this sense of palpable dimensionality. The mountains are meticulously outlined, and therefore they seemed to one reviewer not to “recede by the laws of perspective.”69 Another critic remarked that the trees on either side of the composition appeared “detached from the forest.”70 In 1859—the year of The Heart of the Andes and The Origin of Species—Oliver Wendell Holmes published his essay “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” his first of three articles in the Atlantic Monthly on the new medium. He also invented a widely used stereoscopic viewer to see these flat pairs of images as three-dimensional spaces. The Holmes viewer, as Jonathan Crary notes, produced a particularly “decisive exclusion of the periphery” and thus an image characterized by “hypertangibility” that was “all figure with no ground.”71 In Holmes’s first text, he describes


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the stereograph’s “frightful amount of detail,” indicative of nature’s “infinite complexity” rather than its perfect order. Each image “spares us nothing”; in one, tree branches appear in the foreground “as if they would scratch our eyes out.”72 For Holmes, seeing so much implies a violent loss of vision, a “cutting apart” or “scission” of the self. Too many competing details raise the risk of blindness. “I dive into some mass of foliage with my microscope,” he writes, “and trace the veinings of a leaf so delicately wrought in the painting not made with hands, that I can almost see its down and the green aphis that sucks its juices.”73 The flat image becomes a bodily experience and invites a first-person encounter. This is, to use Susan Sontag’s terms, a “double-lens story”: an image captured by a camera and seen through a stereoscope. Holmes adds yet another lens as well, analogizing the optical experience by way of “my microscope.” Such visual intimacy produces, to quote Sontag again, “unnecessary, indecent information . . . the intolerable realism of the image.”74 At such proximity, the natural world that Holmes encounters in the stereograph is characterized by both microscopic acuity and painterly delicacy. Such details also speak to nature’s extraordinary abilities to adapt; the green aphis insect is colored so as to be camouflaged while it sucks the sap of a plant’s green, downy leaves. To see that closely reveals astonishing beauty, but also the violence born out of a struggle for life. The stereograph’s defining feature was its ability to animate its subject even in death. But such tangible clarity, Holmes implies, ultimately reverses pictorial hierarchy. “We have often found these incidental glimpses of life and death running away with us from the main object the picture was meant to delineate. The more evidently accidental their introduction, the more trivial they are in themselves, the more they take hold of the imagination.”75 “Incidental” details—seemingly insignificant elements that, following Barthes, resist narrative placement—become the “main object” of the image. They work against the picture’s intentions. As in Church’s painting, details threaten to derail narrative continuity. They remain in the mind and take hold of the imagination.

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chapter 4

Uncertain Passages in 1859, th e y ea r both The Heart of the Andes and The Origin of Species appeared, Frederic Church traveled to the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts to sketch (fig. 38). The terrain was constantly shifting, as glaciers and icebergs remade the map. Explorers embarked to chart the region—most famously the Franklin expedition of 1845—and never returned. Geologists struggled to write the history of such a strange, icy landscape. The polar North was a place of mystery, where writers, politicians, explorers, and scientists projected their fantasies and pursued their ambitions. Even more than the tropics, the Arctic was a site of particular cultural fascination at mid-century.1 Church’s 1861 painting of icebergs (fig. 39) offers neither the excess of The Heart of the Andes nor the order of Niagara. The broadside available at exhibitions promised an instructive picture of glacial terrain (see fig. 43).2 But this vast, icy wilderness actually diagrams the problems of representation. When the first shots of the Civil War were fired twelve days before the painting’s debut in 1861, Church patriotically titled his canvas The North, adding, after a dash, a geographically descriptive clause: Church’s Picture of Icebergs. Yet the picture ignores the allusions of its title, offering no visual reference to the conflict between the states nor any invitations to read it as a patriotic manifesto. Many viewers were baffled, even disturbed, by the painting’s emptiness. Here was not only a foreign landscape, but one entirely devoid of human associations. There were not even any signs of

Detail of f i g u r e 39

f i g u r e 38 Frederic Edwin Church, Floating Iceberg, 1859. Brush and oil paint, graphite on paperboard, 7 ⅜ × 14 ¾ in. (18.8 × 37.5 cm). Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, New York, Gift of Louis P. Church, 1917-4-296-a.

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Previous Pages fi g u r e 39 Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861. Oil on canvas, 64 ½ × 112 ½ in. (163.8 × 285.8 cm). Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt.

life, no polar bears, sled dogs, traces of native peoples, or indications of previous expeditions. The ice, water, and looming bergs were all meticulously rendered, but such details did not tell a story, suggest a moral, or even give the particular geographic facts of a newly discovered land. What the canvas presents is an astonishing exploration of paint as ice, and particularly of the color and texture of whiteness, with tonal gradations from cool and chalky to pinkish and marbled to a lush cream. In the right foreground translucent layers of greens and blues create the surface of the water, moving from shallow passages of light turquoise where ice nearly emerges to inkier depths into which it disappears. Skeins of light blue and white and occasionally ruddy brown ripple across the surface, feathery strokes that indicate the constant, small motions of the water. The ghostly shapes of the submerged portions of the icebergs appear like x-rays on the right side of the composition. At the left, short, precise sapphire lines are painted side by side like stitches to represent the bands of water newly frozen in the cracks of the glacier. Across a bay of slow, flat waves the main iceberg rises up, its central, smooth face appearing strikingly bright—a paper-like white—against the cloudy sky and its mottled reflection in the sea below. Church’s picture invites close, material consideration of paint as ice, water, and sky. But what of narrative? Critics wrote of disappointment, discomfort, and even pain. “The eye feels the first shock,” wrote the reviewer for the New-York Daily Tribune, “and anticipates in a moment the slow agonies that shall wind . . . about the tender tissues, and the unsuspecting blood-vessels.”3 The critic for the New York World found that the painting could not be “taken into the soul with a glance. We shall be surprised if those of acute sensibilities do not look upon it at first with a positive feeling of pain, akin to that which we sometimes feel in the presence of the terrible visions of sleep.”4 Another writer warned viewers that the picture would “follow them home and haunt them for weeks.”5 Such responses recall Twain’s reaction to The Heart of the Andes—the increasingly “painful” attempts “to grasp an intelligible Something,” the inability to forget the picture and find relief. The North did not sell. Wartime concerns may have been largely to blame, although one can also imagine that the lack of symbolic details would have made finding a buyer for such a large, pricey painting particularly difficult. So after two years the artist decided to change the title, and the painting itself. This is the painting we know today. The North became The Icebergs just before it was sent to London for exhibition in June 1863. In the foreground, Church added a broken ship’s mast, the one sign of humanity in an otherwise barren landscape. The crosslike wreckage claims symbolic meaning, but it cannot export such meaning to the entire canvas. The mast’s crow’s nest—that perch from which to see into the distance, into the ship’s future—lies useless on the ice. Literally and figuratively, this is a detail of fallen vision. The addition of the mast indicates Church’s desire to


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make the painting cohere around an allegorical message of faith or an intelligible story of the heroism and tragedy of exploration. The fate of the crow’s nest suggests otherwise.

t he lu r e of th e north Church’s northern journey can be understood in terms of aesthetic appetite, scientific curiosity, mythic lure, and insatiable wanderlust. Here was a place that promised new landscapes, new forms, and new visual challenges. Romantic literature, works such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, created an Arctic of the imagination, where all that ice and whiteness became central to story and effect. During the first half of the nineteenth century, exploration of the northernmost regions increased. The motivation behind these voyages was essentially twofold: to gain a complete geographical knowledge of the Arctic and to chart a “Northwest Passage.” The great, unanswered question was: could there be a direct trade route from Europe to Asia through the treacherous and unpredictable fields of ice? Explorers had been looking for such a passage, in essence a shorter spice route to the wealth of India, China, and the East, for hundreds of years. But, in the mid-nineteenth century, these commercial goals, inseparable from nationalist, imperialist, and even evangelical ambitions, also became intertwined with the scientific search for an “open polar sea.” At the top of the world, scientists hypothesized, there existed an ice-free body of water, a sea fed by warm tropical waters and winds, concealed by glaciers and icebergs. Many became convinced that, like an oasis in the desert, an expansive polar sea existed, behind the seemingly endless walls of ice, if only they could get just a little closer to the North Pole.6 Dr. Elisha Kent Kane announced his discovery, or rather a supposed sighting by two of his crewmembers, of this polar sea upon returning to the United States in 1855 following a two-year Arctic voyage launched to search for clues to the missing Franklin expedition. Kane in fact had thought that Franklin might be stranded in this sea. In his official report to the Navy, Kane described “an open, iceless area, abounding in animal life, and presenting every character of an open Polar sea.”7 Scientists and laypeople alike were enthralled with the discovery. Matthew Maury devoted an entire chapter to the phenomenon in his seminal study of oceanography, The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855). “Seals were sporting and water-fowl feeding in this open sea of Dr. Kane’s. Its waves came rolling in at his feet, and dashed with measured tread, like the majestic billows of old ocean, against the shore. Solitude, the cold and boundless expanse, and the mysterious heavings of its green waters, lent their charm to the scene. They suggested fancied myths, and kindled in the ardent imagination of the daring mariners many longings.”8 Maury uncharacteristically trades detachment and data for “majestic, . . . mysterious . . . myths.” Even the

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important fact that Kane himself never saw the open sea is dispensed with. This is like Rev. Louis Legrand Noble’s description of The Heart of the Andes; details as facts are included in the narrative but are not necessarily “visible in the picture.” They appear, “kindled [by] the ardent imagination.” Church closely followed the scientific search for a polar sea. The painter was a friend of Dr. Isaac Hayes, who had served as a surgeon on Kane’s voyage of 1853–55. Later, the artist would give Hayes drawing lessons, and the scientist would name a peak in the Arctic after the painter.9 Hayes’s book The Open Polar Sea: Narrative of aVoyage of Discovery towards the North Pole, in the Schooner “United States” (1867) presented the most compelling and thorough case yet for an ice-free body of water at the North Pole. Equatorial tides, he argued, constantly displaced frigid polar water. A scientifically explicable, but divinely inspired, warmth was the result: “The Almighty hand, in the all-wise dispensation of His power” had created this system, “cooling the Tropic with a current of water from the Frigid, and warming the Frigid with a current from the Tropic.”10 In the first pages of The Open Polar Sea, Church is listed as a subscriber to Hayes’s expedition.11 It is not difficult to understand the allure of both the search for such a sea, with its scientific and nationalistic import, and of Hayes’s methods, which place God at the center of natural laws. Meanwhile, journalists updated the public on both Hayes and Church. In the Living Age, on the last page of an article entitled “Dr. Hayes’ Arctic Journey,” a brief notice informs readers of the whereabouts of The Heart of the Andes. The painting had been sent to England again so that William Forrest, the Scottish engraver, could complete his plate.12 As a South American painting recrossed the Atlantic, an Arctic expedition returned to the United States. The press was tracking the nation’s explorers and its paintings as they traveled the globe. One can imagine how appealing the idea of an open polar sea would have been to a nineteenth-century audience eager for tales of exploration and new discoveries. The foreboding North held a secret: in the midst of the harshest of conditions, there was a place of sustainability and warmth. As if from a children’s story, the polar sea functioned as a kind of secret garden, a place of beauty, mystery, and even knowledge. Through it, a passage into another far off, and equally exotic, land was possible. An open polar sea could bring the distant riches of Asia within reach. And an Arctic that could be navigated—and particularly an Arctic that contained a “tropical” interlude—was no longer such a threat. The tropical was therefore oddly and improbably connected to the polar, first in scientific theories and subsequently in the popular mind. So perhaps it is less surprising that Church would proceed from The Heart of the Andes to The Icebergs. Noble accompanied the painter on his polar voyage and recounted the trip in lengthy, exclamatory prose in After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and around


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Newfoundland (1861). In the midst of describing these icy pursuits, Noble digresses and includes a chapter on the tropics, which retells a story of Church’s travels in the Andean mountains. The book moves from north to south and back again.

pa i nti n g i n wartime The Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs can be viewed as an unlikely pair. They are approximately the same size and both were originally displayed with a carved, shadow-box frame made of dark wood.13 They both include a mountain of ice in the background and a body of water in the foreground. They present resolutely foreign landscapes but are chronologically flanked by decidedly national pictures: on the one side, Niagara (1857), and on the other, Twilight in the Wilderness (1860; fig. 40) and Our Banner in the Sky (1861), a little painting that was completed just months after the outbreak of the Civil War.14 Both The Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs were, following Fort Sumter, presented with a sense of nationalistic purpose—the latter through its demonstrative first title, The North, and the former by appearing with presidential portraits at the Metropolitan Fair. But such patriotic stances had to be invented; they were not inherent in either picture’s subject matter. Neither offered a national landmark like Niagara, a depiction of the American wilderness under a portentously apocalyptic sky as in Twilight in the Wilderness, or that most recognizable symbol of the United States of America—the flag—as in Our Banner in the Sky. The last is a small painting that quickly became the basis of a chromolithograph, which turned a healthy profit (all donated to the Union’s cause) with its populist brand of flag-waving patriotism (fig. 41).

f i g u r e 40 Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Oil on canvas, 40 × 64 in. (101.6 × 162.6 cm). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund, 1965.233.

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fi g u r e 41 Goupil & Co., after Frederic Edwin Church, Our Banner in the Sky, April–May 1861. Chromolithograph, 7 ⁹⁄₁₆ × 11 ⅜ in. (19.2 × 28.9 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1976.29.

There is nothing subtle about Our Banner in the Sky. The attenuated trunk of a dead tree provides the picture’s single, stark vertical and doubles as a flagpole. The stars of the twilight sky appear in the upper left of Church’s celestial flag, and the colors of sunset form the flag’s tattered stripes. Little wisps of reddish clouds lend a sense of motion and danger to the bellicose tableau, as if flames might ignite and destroy the union’s beloved symbol. But as fragile and faded as the “banner” might appear, such a sign writ large in the heavens was ultimately a declaration of faith in the North’s cause and even of divine justice. Our Banner in the Sky is the sound-bite version of Twilight in the Wilderness. Visually accessible at a single glance, especially in its chromolithographic form, the picture conveys a clear and uncomplicated message: rally around the flag. Landscape is merely the vehicle for patriotic sentiment. Here is a “war-doodle,” to use Eleanor Jones Harvey’s phrase.15 Twilight in the Wilderness, by contrast, is much more complex, offering a chromatic display that is as impressive as it is uncomfortable. The fiery clouds are reflected in the lake below, trapping the spectator between water and sky, resulting in a kind of symphonic claustrophobia, a brilliant conversion of national anxieties into visual drama.16 As a tribute to the Union cause, The North is an unlikely choice, although perhaps more explicable than The Heart of the Andes. If The Heart of the Andes alluded to the South, The North was linked, through the double meaning of its title, to the Union. A poem published in 1861 and titled “The Coming of the North” takes as its “central metaphor,” according to Harvey, “the meteorological and geological supremacy of the North rolling over the sinful, tropical South like a glacier on the move.”17 Church’s Arctic and tropical paintings were both shown in New York at the same time. The North was exhibited at Goupil’s on Broadway in Manhattan; The Heart of the Andes appeared across the river in Brooklyn, having just returned from


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a tour of major U.S. cities. In the spring of 1861, Church’s “Southern” painting appeared with The North in newspaper notices (fig. 42). These same announcements also made sure to note that admission fees to see the Arctic painting would be going to a noble Northern cause, the newly created Union Patriotic Fund, a charity established to support soldiers’ families. Church therefore expressed his “sympathies,” as Gerald Carr notes, through both a patriotic action and an evocative, albeit “cumbersome,” title.18 The press, however, effortlessly connected the painting to the outbreak of war. “Within the last fortnight we have encountered two new sensations,” wrote the Reverend Theodore Cuyler, who had previously reviewed The Heart of the Andes. One was “the thrill of witnessing a splendid regiment, sweeping down Broadway to a quick step, through one hundred thousand shouting citizens, and under a floating cloud of starred and striped banners. . . . This is war!” The other sensation, “milder indeed than the first,” was “a visit to the Arctic world” of Church’s painting. The critic admits that he approached the exhibition venue “thoroughly prepared for a disappointment.” But, even before he sees the canvas, he is encouraged by the sight of a notice on the door: “‘for the benefit of the Patriotic Fund.’” Here was Church, Cuyler declared, heeding “the call of patriotism.”19 This is also an artist cannily aware of how to market a painting to a public that was preoccupied by the war. If he wanted them to see his Arctic picture, he had to make his painting part of the exclamatory excitement—and shock—of war.

f i g u r e 42 Advertisement for The Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs, from the New York Morning Express, April 29, 1861, negative no. 89410d, New-York Historical Society.

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Church was a national figure at this point, and by all accounts his paintings had become much-anticipated events in themselves. For nearly two years before the debut of his icebergs picture, the public had read accounts of his travels to the Arctic, speculations about the painting’s content, and updates on its progress.20 People were expecting a big painting, a painting that would be unlike any other they had seen. Church was beholden to this audience and to the media that helped shape the public’s taste. In place of military service, a painting emerged. Then, as if to erase any doubts that it was indeed part of the Union’s cause, this painting was called The North.

th e low murmur of language One might expect the broadside to address the painting’s emptiness, filling it with expository text. The pamphlets written by Winthrop and Noble for The Heart of the Andes countered that picture’s disorienting effects with pages of “explanation”: how to look at the painting and how to find meaning in its myriad details. But this is not what the single-page broadside for The North undertakes (fig. 43). Gerald Carr has speculated that the text was written by Church himself, possibly with Noble’s assistance, as some of the descriptions are comparable to Noble’s observations in After Icebergs with a Painter.21 It seems quite plausible that the artist was the primary or even sole author, as the language is much less ornate and indulgent than Noble’s text.22 The broadside is divided into seven sections, each detailing a certain aspect of the Arctic scene: the iceberg’s form, motion, surface, and colors, as well as the sea, the sky, and, finally, the “Expression of the Scene.” Formal characteristics are paramount. Beyond the title, there is no mention of sectional conflict. There is a minimum of metaphor and narrative. Instead, the broadside focuses on the experience of looking at an iceberg. If Church was indeed the author, these paragraphs are as close as he comes to offering a written reflection on aesthetic form and effect. “The spectator is supposed to be standing on the ice, in a bay of the berg,” the broadside begins, immediately placing the viewer in the picture. The scenery to the left and to the right is then noted, and figurative language makes a brief appearance: the iceberg is like “an amphitheatre.” But this is a structural analogy, a means to describe the berg’s “ice-architecture,” rather than an opportunity for dramatic evocation. The conclusion of the opening section is similarly practical and physical: “Thus the beholder has around him the manifold forms of the huge Greenland glacier after it has been launched upon the deep, and subjected, for a time, to the action of the elements—waves and currents, sunshine and storm.” There may be dangerous elements (“overhanging, precipitous ice”), but the tone is not at all sensational. The iceberg’s “vaster proportions” are broken down into form and visual effect. The sublime is made scientific.


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f i g u r e 43 Broadside announcement of the 1862 exhibition of The Icebergs at the Boston Athenæum, The North Painted by F. E. Church, from Studies of Icebergs made in the Northern Seas, in the Summer of 1859 (Boston: Prentiss & Deland, 1862). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1986.146.

Church elucidates the scientific particulars as the text goes on: the creation of “water-lines” on the iceberg, the thermodynamics involved, the optical tricks of reflection and contrasting colors. The picture becomes a means to expose these processes. Where the eye is stunned by the bright white or the sapphire veins in the painting, the text describes the cause of such visual awe. The adjectives are generally restrained, both in meaning and number. There are no digressions, no anecdotes, no lengthy Ruskinian sentences, no exclamation marks. The lack of linguistic fanfare may have to do with the timing of the exhibition—a sense of wartime soberness—although, as Cuyler’s review illustrates, the outbreak of war was itself accompanied by a great deal of fanfare. Church’s painting was also displayed with the same theatricality that had marked the presentations of The Heart of the Andes and that had been the source of considerable criticism. There seem to

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have been fewer complaints about the exhibition style of The North, but accounts made clear that, at least in New York, Church’s paintings were still being displayed with luxurious pageantry: [Goupil’s] floor is covered with a carpet of deep emerald which has the soothing effect of turf under your feet. It is furnished with sofas and divans of a rich purple maroon, and the walls are hung with soft cloth of the same hue. At the end of the gallery, beneath sweeping drapery, within a massive frame of dark, gorgeously carved wood, glitter the scintillant ice-bergs, and gleams, freezing as it flows far out to arctic solitudes, the emerald and azure ocean of the North. Such a picture was never painted before in this or any other country. It is not a picture, it is a sublime fact. You forget the gallery, the ostentatious frame, to sail out unawares into one of God’s primeval solitudes.23 The author describes not only a sensory richness, but also a “soothing effect”: carpet underfoot, sofas to sit on, walls covered in soft fabrics. In the midst of war, the exhibition of The North offered, according to this reviewer, an escapist fantasy: the improbable comfort of the Arctic. The broadside proposes a different experience, one that is more preoccupied with looking closely. Church invites the viewer to examine the picture carefully, “to enter into the details” (returning to Didi-Huberman’s language), in order to “cut up” the painting into individual parts, and, finally, to make it whole again. Individual perception is emphasized, evidenced by the first two words of the text: “the spectator.” The first sentence sets up the desired mode of seeing: “The spectator is supposed to be standing on the ice, in a bay of the berg.” Thus the individual, as with Niagara and its watery foreground, is placed in the scene, in the present tense. Viewing becomes a phenomenological experience. Seeing—being a spectator—means placing one’s body within the visual field. In the first section, the broadside describes this field: the spectator’s surroundings, specifying what is “at your feet,” “to the left,” “to the right,” “in front,” and generally “around him.” In the sections that follow, the artist traces scientific cause and visual effect throughout the painting, while also avoiding both technical rhetoric and narrativizing descriptions. The sentences are measured and precise. But at times the broadside becomes suddenly more evocative. In the fourth section, “Colors of the Iceberg,” the artist considers the impact of light and reflection on the colors (or lack of color) that an iceberg displays. In “a dull atmosphere,” an iceberg is, in general, “an opaque, dead white,—ghastly and spiritless.” Such adjectives are quite startling in the midst of the otherwise restrained rhetoric of the


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broadside. Now the iceberg becomes an object of grotesque fascination and repulsion. A moral judgment—the iceberg as “ghastly and spiritless”—is even implied. But importantly, these are not the conditions or the effects that the painting itself portrays. The broadside goes on to describe the iceberg as it is in the painting, in “bright weather,” under a late afternoon sky marked by “a varied splendor,” at “that brilliant hour.” Rather than “an opaque, dead white,” in fact “lights and shadows, hues and tints, shower the scene” and are “multiplied by reflection.” The evocation of the iceberg’s colors ends this section with the assertion that the beautiful chromatic display is just an illusion. The sapphire veins are, in fact, “simply clear, transparent ice.” From ghastly, to brilliant, to transparent, Church’s language moves from the excitable to the dispassionate. The blues and greens are “only white ice.” Church again juxtaposes the grandiloquent and the analytical in the final section, “Expression of the Scene.” The first sentence begins with a qualification: “All things favoring, an iceberg, in itself alone, is a miracle of beauty and grandeur.” What can be seen is always dependent on certain conditions. With a “fine, quiet afternoon,” “ice only” becomes “grandeur with repose.” The iceberg adopts a human quality in such descriptions. It is “reposing, under the brightness of the declining sun.” Then, in the final lines of the broadside, the visual is surprisingly joined by the aural: “The flight of the mist is noiseless. The swells come gently rolling in, in glassy circles, breaking with low murmur on the icy foreground.” Having drawn the spectator so completely into the scene, Church can now quietly suggest that the painting has come alive. Here is Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy, doubled: the water, in the painting, “murmurs.” Visual details conjure audible speech, or even signify a lack of sound. Beginning with “the spectator,” Church ends with the “foreground.” This is the artist’s own subtly grand gesture: placing the viewer in the painting, making us see the noiseless and the transparent. There is none of the violent velocity of Niagara or verdant chaos of The Heart of the Andes, no tourist in the viewing tower or pilgrims worshiping at a cross. The North, and The Icebergs, is a work about the uncertainties and risks of perception, about the “low murmur” that can never quite be understood.

nar r ati ve i nd i fference Critics were largely complimentary, but also slightly baffled. What did it all mean? Church’s attempt at a patriotic title and his wartime philanthropy left no doubt about the painting’s audience and intended beneficiaries. But still unanswered was how to look at a landscape like this one, a place so foreign and unpopulated, a place without details that could tell a story. Such startling absence made critics question their own undertaking. “The picture is above and beyond criticism,” wrote the reporter for the New York World. “We think it will require some time to get even on speaking terms with the ‘Icebergs.’ ”24 The writer for the Boston Transcript simply

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admitted, “One hardly knows what to say about it. After a while, however, you get into the picture, so to speak; and the panoramic berg begins to tell its story to your curious and admiring gaze.”25 Speech, on several different levels, is complicated. Speaking “about” the painting, finding words to describe it, and speaking “with” the painting, finding a way to relate to a landscape of ice, become the critics’ greatest challenges. One may eventually “get into the picture, so to speak,” but such a phrase points to the difficulty of articulating this process. In fact, these three words mark a shift in this reviewer’s stance; “so to speak” announces the beginning of a type of projective prose. The berg will now be speaking. It will “tell its story,” which the critic will then translate into text. It is a kind of critical ventriloquism when an object speaks, so to speak. But what story should be told? To return to Barthes, what if this painting is more about description than narrative, its details more “futile” than useful? And why, following the arguments of both Barthes and Didi-Huberman, do we approach works of art, or at least representational works of art, from an essentially structuralist perspective? That is, why assume that what can be seen can be known and that such knowledge will invest details with functional, narratological value? A painting, Didi-Huberman reminds us, “is endowed with a strange and formidable capacity for dissimulation.”26 Vision is changeable; we cannot see everything that an image offers up to us. As with The Heart of the Andes, ekphrasis is used as a kind of critical coping mechanism in the face of paintings that seem to promise narratives but that constantly disrupt Barthes’s “narrative syntagm” as well as the very definitions of “significance” and “insignificance.” Reviewers of The Icebergs, when it was known as The North, found the painting difficult to articulate and so most often turned to figurative language. Thus they describe “Parthenons and ‘Peter’s domes,’ ” and “Byzantine columns”27 and even Genesis—perhaps the most powerful tribute to figurative language—“when the earth was without form and void.”28 The broadside, by contrast, offers few metaphorical conceits. Newspaper critics, meanwhile, seemed dazzled by the picture’s imaginative possibilities, finding in it mountains, anatomical forms, classical monuments, and mythical images. Description here is a means to construct narrative possibilities, whereas in Church’s broadside, description actively seems to counter narrative. The broadside is a kind of post-structuralist text: “analogical” rather than “predictive,” discursive rather than referential, unconcerned with questions of functionality and futility.29 The most wide-ranging and insistent use of metaphor as a means to create structure is exhibited not by Church’s critics, but by Church’s traveling companion, Louis Legrand Noble. In After Icebergs with a Painter, Noble brings his skills as a “word-painter” to the icy regions of the north (fig. 44).30 The book’s release coincided with the painting’s debut in 1861 and garnered its own extensive set of


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f i g u r e 44 Frontispiece of Louis Legrand Noble, After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and around Newfoundland (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1861).

reviews while also serving as a companion of sorts to Church’s work of art.31 Noble was writing about real, as opposed to painted, icebergs, but his text seems designed to move between his own observations of the polar region and Church’s representation of it. The book offered relief from the painting’s emptiness. “It gives that human element the lack of which is felt by many who most cordially admire ‘The North,’ ” wrote the Christian Examiner in a sixteen-page review that is largely

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about Noble’s book. After Icebergs provided a kind of proxy narrative for Church’s painting. But the picture itself, as the Examiner explained, remained difficult to interpret. As opposed to Church’s earlier works, visual empathy did not seem possible with The North. The sunshine which streamed over “The Heart of the Andes” fell on a wayside cross where human figures were resting;—there were paths worn by human feet, vines clambered and clung, the river dashed almost audibly over the rocks, and the trill of birdsongs almost reached us from amid high boughs. In the “Niagara,” Nature herself is impersonated as a great, wild, passionate, yearning soul, that plunges on headlong to escape constraint; and the conquest achieved, and the rainbow-hued aureole descends in recognition of her valor. But “The North” is utter, chill solitude; no forces are here save gravitation, cold, color, light. Uncaring, the ice-mountain wheels down to its doom; unresisting, it dissolves and disintegrates, resigning its beauty with an indifference as chill and stolid as its substance.32 The disturbing aspect of The North was its apparent “indifference.” The Heart of the Andes provided the traces of man and the abundance of nature; Niagara offered an image of triumphant “conquest”; The North was an image of “solitude”—not Romantic solitude, but rather nature apart from man, shaped by gravity and entropy, resistant to symbolism. This was nature “uncaring”; this was Darwin’s nature. Noble grasps for definitions and certainty in the Arctic. During this same period, the geological history of the polar regions was being discussed and hotly debated. Louis Agassiz proposed the concept of the “Great Ice Age,” in which a sudden and intense winter had covered the entire earth and caused a mass extinction of what he reasoned were tropical species. “It spread over the very countries where these tropical animals had their homes, and so suddenly did it come upon them that they were embalmed beneath masses of snow and ice, without time even for the decay which follows death.”33 This theory sought to replace the idea of another cataclysmic event: the “Great Flood.” Agassiz, who was traveling around the Arctic in 1859, joined Church and Noble on their ship at the start of their journey that summer. Agassiz met the painter and the writer in the Arctic mere months before Darwin would publish The Origin of Species. Darwin would send an inscribed copy to Agassiz that fall, writing that he was not sending the book in “a spirit of defiance or bravado.” Instead, he strikes a conciliatory tone. “I hope that you will at least give me credit,” Darwin writes, “however erroneous you may think my conclusions, for having earnestly endeavored to arrive at the truth.”34 But of course Agassiz did


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f i g u r e 45 D. Appleton and Company, “New Books and New Editions,” in Louis Legrand Noble, After Icebergs with a Painter: A SummerVoyage to Labrador and around Newfoundland (New York: D. Appleton, 1861).

find Darwin’s conclusions “erroneous,” and would contest evolution until his death in 1877, slowly losing credibility among his scientific colleagues as the years went on. In the back of Noble’s book, the publisher, D. Appleton and Company, listed its “New Books and New Editions.” After Icebergs with a Painter appears between Science Brought Down to the Year 1860 and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (fig. 45). Church’s voyage to the Arctic may have begun with Agassiz, but it ends, so to speak, with Darwin.

p er i lous play Noble’s book arrived to populate Church’s cold scene of indifference with jovial anecdotes and endless metaphors. “We gaze at the painting with new eyes,” the writer for the Christian Examiner stated, sounding relieved, “now it is seen as a record of gladsome adventure, and haunted everywhere by the personality of poet and artist.”35 Noble discusses Church’s artistic process and the region where he journeyed to find visual inspiration. The book is a travelogue and a behindthe-scenes look at a famous artist. Whereas the broadside for the painting closely adheres to the formal characteristics of the canvas itself, the book reads like an exclamatory thesaurus, constantly describing and redescribing, bouncing from one adjective-rich analogy to another. Indeed, as soon as icebergs are sighted (“Icebergs!

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Icebergs!”36), Noble unleashes his zeal for metaphor. They appear “like an Arab’s tent” and “a domed mosque in marble” (28). They resemble “a cluster of Chinese buildings, then a Gothic cathedral, early style,” which is “soon transmuted into something like the Coliseum” surrounded by “the ruins of a marble city” (85). Faces in the ice also begin to appear as the book progresses and, indeed, Church’s painting invites such anthropomorphizing as well. Human features seem discernible near the grotto and especially in the cliff on the left edge of the picture. They lure us into seeing, and naming, more concrete forms in the ice, as if a greater degree of representational intimacy could be achieved: not “ice only,” but ice as something. Yet the fact that these faces never fully cohere results in a sense of estrangement. An image like this thus becomes, to use Maurice Blanchot’s words, “yet more inaccessible and mysterious . . . without signification, yet summoning up the depth of any possible meaning; unrevealed yet manifest, having that absenceas-presence which constitutes the lure and the fascination of the Sirens.’”37 Noble creates personae from the ice, a character for each evocative shadow, manifesting that which Church’s painting leaves “unrevealed.” “Like cumulous clouds, icebergs are perpetually mimicking the human face. This fine crystal creature, by a change in our position, becomes a gigantic bust or poet or philosopher, leaning back and gazing with a fixed placidity into the skies” (118). There is a strangely large duck, “a pair of mammoth moosehorns,” and a convincing Windsor Castle (175–76, 184). These imaginative projections are not merely entertainment; they are a means to bring structure to the endless white ice, to attach names and shapes to the unknown and the unfamiliar. By page 217, still less than two-thirds of the way through the text, Noble declares that he is tired of all this language. “I am quite tired of the words: emerald, pea-green, pearl, sea-shells, crystal, porcelain and sapphire, ivory, marble and alabaster, snowy and rosy, Alps, cathedrals, towers, pinnacles, domes and spires. I could fling them all, at this moment, upon a large descriptive fire, and the blaze would not be sufficiently brilliant to light the mere reader to the scene” (217). None of these words seems to be getting to the point. Together they do not even sufficiently illuminate the subject. And yet, what else is there? Thirty pages later, Noble produces a breathless paragraph of nouns and adjectives, stringing them together as if exhausting all possible words might somehow create the “blaze” he seeks. [An iceberg is] a combination of Alp, castle, mosque, Parthenon and cathedral. It has peaks and slopes; cliffs, crags, chasms and caverns; lakes, streams and waterfalls. It has towers, battlements and portals. It has minarets, domes and steeples; roofs and gables; balustrades and balconies; fronts, sides and interiors; doors, windows and porches; steps and entrances; columns, pilasters,


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capitals and entablatures; frieze, architrave and cornice; arches, cloisters, niches, statuary and countless decorations; flutings, corrugations, carvings, panels of glassy polish and in the rough; Greek, Roman, Gothic, Saracenic, Pagan, Savage. . . . This precipice has . . . the polish of ivory—the glassy polish of mirrors— the enamel of sea-shells—the fierce brightness of burnished steel—the face of rubbed marble—of smoothest alabaster—of pearl—porcelain—lily-white flesh—lily-white wax—the fleshfinish of beauty done in the spotless stone of Italy. [246–47] An iceberg becomes all things while also refusing to be any of them. There is, Noble explains in one of his most evocative sentences, “a fine excitement in this rather perilous play with the sublime and the desolate” (123). The Arctic’s bleak and deathly elements seem to unsettle Noble, and his words can be read as attempts to fill the ominous stillness—that “ghastly and spiritless” quality that the broadside described—with increasingly elaborate imagery. This “record of gladsome adventure” is indeed “haunted everywhere.”

s pec u lati on Church’s painting invites description but resists narrative. Details that might tell a clearer story are withheld. And the eye feels the “first shock,” as the reviewer for the New-York Daily Tribune wrote, a feeling of cold absence. By abandoning symbolic subject matter and narrative structure, and by inviting metaphor and speculative clauses such as “so to speak,” Church took a risk. Like Niagara and The Heart of the Andes, The North had been painted without a commission. It was a speculative painting, and this time the speculation did not, initially, pay off. Church would never again paint another major work without having a confirmed buyer. His Arctic painting would go on tour, but it also spent a lot of time taking up valuable space in his Tenth Street studio. When it did not sell after two years, Church revised the painting and the title, calling it simply The Icebergs. Before sending the canvas to London for display, Church added a broken ship’s mast in the foreground (fig. 46). Pyramidal webbing and a rope threaded through a pulley at the mast’s crest give this added detail a nautical specificity, a precision akin to the fractured surfaces of the icebergs. The semicircular shape of the crow’s nest is doubled by the slackened rope beneath the mast; both are smooth, curvilinear forms surrounded by the hard, linear edges of ice nearly everywhere else. Snow has begun to cover the sail, and the patches of brown read like canvas, showing us what lies, quite literally, beneath the white paint. Both sail and canvas are also made of the same material, tightly woven linen or cotton, so that Church’s new detail gestures “inward” to its own material substrate, even

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fi g u r e 46 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt.

while its purpose was undoubtedly to suggest new symbolic possibilities—to gesture outward, as it were. The sail becomes a relay between matter and symbol as well as between two concepts of time. Only partially buried by a drift of snow, the sail and its broken mast seem to have recently come to rest here, as if to indicate that the wreck had itself taken place in the interval between the painting’s debut and the placement of the wreckage in the painting, connecting the time in the painting with the time of the painting. This sense of a temporal proximity to the ship’s demise is amplified by the circular prints in the snow, scattered around the area just above the mast’s base. They appear like odd footprints, bright white marks that stand out on the surface of the ice and bear no connection with other shapes in the picture. While they likely represent the work of natural forces, because they are placed next to the mast and close to the artist’s own signature (fig. 47), there is a temptation to read them as a signifier of human presence, a presence that has abandoned the scene. They are, like the mast itself, “digressive” details and, to use Daniel Arasse’s term, details that appear “to act on their own.”38 Rather than bringing order or resolution to the painting, Church’s belated addition suggests the difficulty of constructing such order. The mast points to a narrative, or a series of narrative possibilities, that remain elusive. Although the painter was undoubtedly resistant to Darwin’s theories, the two men’s preoccupation with detail belies a common anxiety. As British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips


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writes, “the anxiety informing all Darwin’s detailed observations and conjectures is that everything disappears. . . . The tombs and monuments are like brief stays against extinction, just the moments before invisibility sets in.”39 The Icebergs may invite comparisons to cathedrals or mausoleums, but it also resists any singular symbolism. The recourse to metaphor—the preferred strategy of Noble and the art critics—is a means to guard against invisibility. The mast is a similar tactic. But like all that language that Noble cannot either seem to get right or give up, the “blaze” is not bright enough to illuminate the entire scene. Instead of providing a clarifying presence, Church’s detail becomes an icon of disappearance. The addition of a ship’s wreckage was intended to create a more legible and therefore more marketable painting. Arctic exploration had particular resonance with the British, and although Church was careful not to give his mast the marks of any particular expedition, British viewers would almost certainly have been reminded of Sir John Franklin, the most famous Arctic explorer of the period.40 With two ships and 128 men, Franklin had set out to navigate a Northwest Passage on May 19, 1845. After three years without word from the expedition, rescue missions were dispatched. Franklin’s fame, his wife’s insistent public profile, and promises of monetary awards kept the disappearance of the explorer’s fleet in the public eye for decades. Some, however, found this tiresome. “Is Franklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should be so earnest to find him?” Thoreau asked in

f i g u r e 47 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt.

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Walden. “It is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone.”41 But the lost Franklin continued to grab headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. “Finding Franklin,” as one historian notes, “had become nothing less than a crusade.”42 Religious language entered the popular discourse to describe such Arctic expeditions as “quests,” “crusades,” and “pilgrimages.” Explorers carried their nations’ flags as far north as possible and became patriotic “martyrs” in the process. In the United States, the Arctic became, as Michael Robinson argues, “a happy distraction” from sectional strife at mid-century. Polar exploration was a less confrontational form of colonialism, in which land could be discovered and claimed without armies or bureaucrats or significant bloodshed.43 In 1850 eleven British and two American ships searched the polar North for clues to what happened to Franklin and his men, and the first relics from the lost crew were found. Rescue and recovery missions continued as the century progressed, with hopes of finding the official expedition records or even survivors living among the Inuit. Instead, evidence of cold, starvation, disease, and even cannibalism surfaced. It became clear that all had perished, and most of the facts remained unknown.44 The mast in The Icebergs of 1863 is the relic that was never discovered. The eye first moves to this long splintering piece of wood, its strikingly large size, dark color, and prominent placement in the foreground immediately capturing the attention. The canvas now seems to be adamantly about Something: the idea of exploration, a tribute to a real person, the memory of an actual journey. The spectator could imagine himself saved from a wreck, as a London reviewer envisioned, instead of merely “standing on the ice,” as the broadside had stated.45 But this detail most convincingly, and paradoxically, references disappearance: of a commander, his ships, his crew, their hopes for new discoveries, and, later, basic survival. It also represents the act of speculation in response to such disappearance. In the wake of death and uncertainty, the mast is like the small, tentative tale that aims to reassure by constructing a means to remember. It becomes a cross-like gravestone that makes the whiteness less threatening, as if a story that ended in death were more comforting than emptiness. In the third chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Ishmael confronts similar problems of interpretation in the “very large oil-painting” he repeatedly studies at the Spouter-Inn. What is he looking at, and what do those “unaccountable masses of shades and shadows” mean? But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a


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nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted.Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvelous painting meant. Ever and anon a bright, but, alas, deceptive idea would dart you through.—It’s the Black Sea in a midnight gale.—It’s the unnatural combat of the four primal elements.—It’s a blasted heath.—It’s a Hyperborean winter scene.—It’s the breaking up of the ice-bound stream of Time. But at last these fancies yielded to that one portentous something in the picture’s midst. That once found out, and all the rest were plain.46 That “portentous, black mass of something” becomes the key to understanding “what that marvelous painting meant.” But it is the “indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity” that keeps Ishmael looking. “Deceptive” possibilities occur to him, but “that one portentous something” remains mute. At last he offers a theory, one “partly based upon the aggregated opinions of many aged persons.” That “something” is “the great leviathan himself,” a whale “impaling himself upon the three mast-heads.” The mastheads alone signify the “half-foundered ship.”47 But Moby Dick—that “one portentous something”—will not be so easily found or understood. Ishmael is overwhelmed by the desire to comprehend, or capture, that “something,” and to create from it a more conclusive “intelligible Something.” The painting, with its maddeningly inexplicable masses and mastheads, foreshadows the rest of the novel. The whale, as Ishmael later concludes, is “that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last.”48

t he s i r en s ’ son g If Church’s masthead fails to make the picture legible, it does show us how to move into the painting. It points across the canvas to the grotto area (fig. 48), and is also connected by the repetition of both the brown and the bright aquamarine colors. Like the tree in Niagara, these pieces of wood function as an invitation into the painting, an object both alluring and insufficient. The mast’s position initially seems like a clear directive: there. But the viewer is redirected away from the only signs of humanity—the crow’s nest and, next to it, the artist’s signature on a slab of ice—to an eerie green space of ghostly, submerged icebergs. The scale of this area is difficult to decipher, as is the distance between mast and grotto. Instead of moving from foreground to middle ground to background through the center of the picture, following landscape convention, the painting makes a sharp turn, pointing away from the looming iceberg in the middle of the canvas to the strangeness of an icy grotto.

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fi g u r e 48 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt.

Here a light turquoise fills the arch: a reflection, the broadside tells us, of the water below. The tonal variation in this area creates the effect of an internal illumination, drawing the eye into the narrow cavern where delicately drawn ripples indicate the water’s movement still further back and out of sight. To the left of the grotto’s mouth the eye is moved from the bright, chalk-colored ice to the increasingly deeper shades of green and blue that signify the gradual retreat of this part of the iceberg below the water. Violet, coral, and rose strokes of paint to the right indicate the light of an unseen sun reflected back on the ice. The unstable dynamic of appearance and disappearance, already thematized by the mast in the foreground, finds another expression in this portion of the canvas. The ranges of individual colors—greens, blues, browns, purples, pinks, and whites—and the varying techniques for applications—thick passages of impasto for the ice and boulder, washes of pigment with all brushstrokes effaced for the water—create a material play between surface and depth.


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The evocative materiality of this part of the painting attracts the viewer’s attention. There is also a wealth of possible symbolism here that provokes the imagination. The grotto could be a mythological element or a Romantic trope, while also being a captivating geological formation. Such possibilities offered fertile territory for critical speculation, and the London press, like their New York counterparts, produced some wonderfully fanciful interpretations. According to the London Daily News the caverns could be the “haunt of fairies . . . or some lovely sirens,”49 while the London Review imagined “hiding places for the mermaids.”50 Some of the descriptions seem to recall the open polar sea, that secret garden at the top of the world, an iceless respite on the way to the orient. In The Open Polar Sea, Isaac Hayes recalls the grottoes of the Arctic as “sacred chamber[s] . . . filled with a soft cerulean light” and water as “pure and sparkling as the cypress-embowered waters that laved the virgin limbs of the huntress-queen.”51 The grotto is a place of erotic—and interpretive—temptation. While peering into the deep recesses of this wonderful cave, so chaste and exquisite, where solitude appeared to dwell alone and undisturbed except by the soft music of streams, I became suddenly conscious of having been enticed into danger, Actæon-like, unawares. A mass of ice broke from the glacier front and, splitting into numerous fragments, the shower came crushing down upon the rocks and in the water near me, and sent me flying precipitately and with my curiosity still unsatisfied.52 Hayes becomes an Arctic Actæon, “enticed into danger” by a siren’s song. But the explorer is violently ejected, his desire unsatisfied. The mystery of this “chaste” cave remains. A different mystery is proposed by the boulder perched above the painting’s icy cave. Boulders were the source of much scientific speculation and controversy at the time.53 Huge, oddly placed stones dotted the earth; but how did they get there? What extraordinary force could pick up and carry these “erratic boulders”? This was one of the more perplexing questions that provoked scientists’ interest in rethinking geological history. The first, and initially most popular, explanation for these mysterious rocks was the great flood theory, which gained wide support in part because of its biblical correspondence. The boulders became physical proof of a biblical history. Those “lost rocks”—a beautiful phrase that evokes visions of wandering stones—would have been dislodged and displaced during the deluge. But this concept was contested by Agassiz’s ice age theory, which, in the most basic terms, proved to be correct, as well as by Charles Lyell’s theory of continental lift, whereby shorelines would gradually become elevated and their rocks moved inland, often on icebergs acting as rafts.54

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fi g u r e 49 Joseph Wright of Derby, Grotto by the Seaside in the Kingdom of Naples with Banditti, Sunset, 1778. Oil on canvas, 48 × 68 in. (121.9 × 172.7 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and other Funds, by exchange, 1990.95. fi g u r e 50 Joseph Wright of Derby, A Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, Sunset, 1780–81. Oil on canvas, 40 × 50 in. (101.6 × 127 cm).Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Paul Mellon Collection.

Church’s erratic boulder may reference current scientific debates, but that does not lessen the strange visual effect of a large brown mass wedged on the side of a luminous ice cave. A periwinkle blue is daubed at the rock’s base, as if to glue it into place. The rock has smudged the iceberg, staining the ice below it an earth tone. The marks of the brush are visible in this area, scratches in the paint with no uniform direction that create the impression of a roughness not found elsewhere, as if to further distance this geological feature, at the level of paint, from anything else. Chunks of smaller rocks tumble into the shallow waters next to the grotto. Both boulder and grotto are surprisingly small, almost delicate, when measured against the towering walls of ice nearby. They seem estranged from their surroundings and appear next to each other like awkward neighbors. One leans toward the scientific, the other the mythological, while neither emphatically represents either mode. The boulder and the grotto also represent two forms of history: one geological, the other art historical, with its mythological and biblical themes. The grotto as a framing device had reappeared in Thomas Cole’s work and was also a trope of British artist Joseph Wright of Derby. Wright repeatedly used the grotto as a stage and his paintings seem to take place within the ominous or protective walls of the caves. The rocks of these grottoes amplify the mood of the pictures, whether the intrigue of Grotto by the Seaside in the Kingdom of Naples with Banditti, Sunset or the quiet solemnity of A Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, Sunset (figs. 49, 50). The grotto itself changes very little from painting to painting, but each envelops the characters or objects within it and intimately conveys the feeling of the scene to the viewer. By contrast, there are no figures in Thomas Cole’s The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge (fig. 51). The viewer is positioned in the shadows of a rocky enclave looking out to a flooded but brightening landscape. This is Cole at his allegorical best: no angels, no castles in the sky, no crosses of light, just an exhausted, but still


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clearly biblical, sense of aftermath. Tree limbs litter the scene and a lone fragile skull sits at the base of the cave. A rock, like Church’s erratic boulder, seems precariously placed at the mouth of the enclosure, teetering on the edge at the right of the frame, as if it had just landed there in the last rush of water. As in The Icebergs, the terrain may seem to express architectural and anthropomorphic meaning, but this is never codified. Each work includes traces of death—skull and mast—to reference disaster. What makes the two paintings so different is how each expresses aftermath. While Cole’s work marks time by contrasting the darkness of the grotto with the sunrise in the distance to create a sense of before and after, chaos and rebirth, Church’s painting does not enable such elemental narrativizing. The view into the background offers only a blindingly white iceberg and a ruddy, overcast sky. The grotto is but a detail within the landscape, not the framing device itself. We can barely see into this cool, turquoise space, much less through it. If Cole’s picture exists comfortably in biblical time, Church’s painting seems to move between the present tense of viewing, as the broadside indicates by addressing the spectator’s position, and the historical, scientific, and mythic past tenses. Each is proposed by a certain detail or viewpoint. The picture therefore lacks the drama of allegory but has instead a haunting presence, gesturing to several readings— landscape as history, science, or myth—but never committing to any single interpretation. Cole shows us what happens after the deluge and how we should feel. Church keeps us searching.

f i g u r e 51 Thomas Cole, The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829. Oil on canvas, 35 ¾ × 47 ⅝ in. (90.8 × 121.4 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

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fi g u r e 52 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt.

In The Icebergs, the eye moves first from mast to grotto, then to boulder, and next to the largest iceberg (fig. 52). The boulder, like the masthead, even appears to point to this central iceberg. The rock looks like a cannon, the barrel of the gun tapering as it faces the pyramid of white ice. The iceberg may dwarf the grotto and the artillery-like boulder with its monumental size and stature, but the course taken to reach it divests it of much of its power. Unlike in Niagara, where the Falls is the declarative subject and object of the painting, the iceberg in The Icebergs is mute. It blocks the view of the horizon and knowledge of what lies beyond. The shadows on the central iceberg seem to indicate that the sun must be located to the left, but the play of reflections and refractions among water, ice, and sky makes locating the sun’s precise position impossible. As the broadside notes, “Light and shadows, hue and tints, shower the scene, and are thrown in all ways, and multiplied by reflection.” This is “that brilliant hour,” a time of splendor as well as optical confusion. But the sun, which makes these effects possible, has disappeared from view. In The Andes of Ecuador, the sun appears at the center of the canvas like an Emersonian eyeball, bringing order to the rest of the landscape.55 Light is everywhere, illuminating everything. In The Icebergs, there is plenty of light, but no discernable source. An optical and symbolic path into the heavens is blocked by a large mass of white paint, a surface both blank and exquisitely rendered with every chip, crack, and fissure, shaded with blues and purples and pinks to create a color


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akin to bruised porcelain. A dome tops the iceberg, nearly disappearing into the sky. It recalls the round ornamentation of Cole’s castle-in-the-clouds in The Voyage of Life: Youth, which allegorizes the brash confidence of the young (and of a young nation) in pursuing grand visions (fig. 53). The castle is a fantastical projection in Cole’s painting; in Church’s work, the white form is about material substance, about the effects of time and atmosphere on matter and about rendering this in paint. The central iceberg becomes its own canvas, a white painting within a painting. While Niagara can be read like lines of text, back and forth across the page, The Icebergs presents, as the climax, a page with markings that lead nowhere. If there is a dramatic arc created by moving from mast to grotto to boulder, the central iceberg—the painting’s namesake—absorbs any narrative momentum into the whiteness of a blank page. Neither the smooth face of the berg nor its countless sharp edges offer legible significance. The Albion, responding to the painting’s initial debut, cautioned that “ordinary observers . . . may perhaps experience some slight disappointment when they miss all familiar objects and find no trace whatever of human association . . . no connecting link of any sort between themselves and the

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f i g u r e 53 Thomas Cole, TheVoyage of Life: Youth, 1842. Oil on canvas, 52 ⅞ × 76 ¾ in. (134.3 × 194.9 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alisa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1971.16.2.


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canvas.”56 The crow’s nest appears to be the object that will provide that “connecting link.” But the iceberg, still there in the center of the canvas, proves otherwise. From cross-like relic to the traces of mythology and science, the viewer ends up facing a blank wall, illuminated by a sun that cannot be seen. We have been directed here, but why? The iceberg is, returning to Phillips, the monument that reminds us of what we cannot have, of how much we are unable to see or know for certain. The final move of the painting assures this. Without a focal point, the eye moves back to the left foreground. The entire left edge of the canvas is a wall of ice, creating a sense of visual entrapment and, at five feet four and a half inches high, actually replicates the viewer’s own vertical form. With blue veins, shadowy passages, and a face-like profile at the top, this form takes on an ominous and anthropomorphic quality. It asserts a monumental presence while not memorializing, or even representing, anything other than itself. But it is not quite “ice only,” the broadside’s description of The North of 1861. It also functions as the edge of the canvas, a jagged wall that stops the eye and proclaims “the end of travel,” to borrow a line from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Imaginary Iceberg.”57 Church’s left edge, like his central iceberg, is, in the end, about painting itself.

wh i teness fi g u r e 54 Sir Edwin Landseer, Man Proposes, God Disposes, 1864. Oil on canvas, 36 × 96 in. (91.4 × 243.7 cm). Royal Holloway, University of London.

The mast added in 1863 indicates an absence that moves beyond simple signification, a piece of a lost ship, to point to a more profound and unsettling sense of disappearance that the rest of the painting constructs. There is a startling lack of sentiment or drama. This is not a Romantic homage to a fallen hero. Nature is “ice only,” not the stage for God’s grand and moralizing gestures, as in Sir Edwin Landseer’s contemporaneous work Man Proposes, God Disposes, a painting about the brutal cost of human pride and ambition (fig. 54). Nor does Church’s canvas


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f i g u r e 55 Caspar David Friedrich, The Polar Sea, 1823–24. Oil on canvas, 38 ¹⁄₁₆ × 50 in. (96.7 × 126.9 cm). Hamburger Kunsthalle.

monumentalize loss, as in Caspar David Friedrich’s The Polar Sea, a painting that confronts the viewer with both the power and order of the natural world with its bold, triangular composition (fig. 55). The Icebergs suggests a Darwinian world in which nature is a source of uncertainty as much as, or more than, structure. Those elements that would seem typical of Romantic painting—the grottoes of Wright of Derby or the shipwreck in Friedrich’s painting—are made smaller but more problematic, quieter but more disturbing, in The Icebergs.58 Following David Miller’s compelling interpretation of the iconography of wrecked boats, Church’s orphaned masthead, and the final painting of 1863, can be read as part of a reconceptualization of time during the mid-nineteenth century. With greater knowledge of natural history, Americans’ sense of time shifted from a “God- and human-centered, historicist” notion of the world to a “radically impersonal” one. “If there is an elegiac quality in these depictions of wrecks mouldering on the shore,” Miller writes, “any such traditional pattern of feeling struggles to express itself through their minimal forms and in spite of their momentum toward blankness—a ‘dumb blankness full of meaning,’ to invoke Ishmael’s phrase in Moby Dick.”59 The Icebergs has such a “momentum toward blankness.” Whiteness in Church’s painting seems both excessive and insufficient. The painting provokes questions perhaps best expressed by Ishmael, when he is considering the terrifying paradox of that “dumb blankness, full of meaning.” 60 But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and

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more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?61 Church’s “wide landscape of snows” does not propose annihilation or atheism. But neither, of course, does Ishmael. He wonders about the possibility, asking why whiteness can appeal to the soul as “the most meaning symbol of spiritual things” while it also “stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation.” There is too much meaning, but also a terrifying “indefiniteness.” Whiteness is the “intensifying agent,” creating “voids,” “immensities,” “depths,” and “absence.” This is the white blankness that Robert Frost, perhaps echoing Melville, invokes in “Desert Places”: “And lonely as it is that loneliness / Will be more lonely ere it will be less—/ A blanker whiteness of benighted snow / With no expression, nothing to express.” 62 Without fixity, faith is compromised. What if all this meaning means nothing? What if there is “nothing to express”? Herman Melville’s novel is a quest for knowledge, an “epistemological odyssey,” as Michael Gilmore has called it, but the conclusion is that the cost of such a search is too high; indeed, the price is the annihilation of self.63 The desire to know must, in the end, be abandoned. There is something beautifully wrenching about Melville’s description, “a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows.” If dumbness is the inability to speak, these words resonate in a particularly provocative way with Church’s painting. It is not for lack of meaning that the painting cannot communicate; it is in fact full of meaning, a landscape of depth and immensity. But blankness blocks speech, allowing only a “low murmur.” Church’s preliminary sketches for The Icebergs do not have this effect. In Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset (1860, private collection), the painter places a shipwreck in the center foreground and chooses to portray a pack of icebergs rather than a grotto and a single iceberg beyond. The vessel is stranded on the ice, bow raised,


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with a dash of red paint (perhaps a flag) on the mast, at the very point where the crow’s nest would be.64 In the final study for The Icebergs, Church moved the shipwreck to where the boulder now appears, added the grotto, and altered the configuration of icebergs to reflect what we see today (fig. 56). The wreck is repositioned from foreground to middle ground before disappearing in 1861 and then partially reappearing in the 1863 revision. This process of retreat, removal, and return is significant. Church actually tries out a version of the painting that would, literally, foreground a human narrative. With its daub of red and its icebound body, the ship in the first 1860 study clearly captures the attention. It provides an immediate sense of scale and underscores the hulking size of the icebergs that surround it. Pictured at sunset, this is a requiem for a lost voyage. If Friedrich’s The Polar Sea conveys a dramatic and fatal end, Church’s Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset indicates a slow, and perhaps inevitable, death. The final study of 1860 offers a ship in the near distance, partially obscured by the pack ice. Instead of communicating a narrative of exploration and loss, this study insists on religious allegory. The mast has been stripped bare of all nautical details. There are no ropes, no pulleys, no rigging, no crow’s nest. It appears like a cross, the pieces of wood standing out from the white background. As in Cole’s Landscape Composition, St. John in the Wilderness, this is that small but powerful sign of God in the wilderness, as if to remind the viewer that hope and faith should never be lost (fig. 57).

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f i g u r e 56 Frederic Edwin Church, Final Study for the Icebergs, 1860. Oil on canvas laid down on masonite, 10 × 18 ⅛ in. (25.4 × 46 cm). Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine, The Lunder Collection, 001.2014.


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Yet this is not what The Icebergs conveys. In the 1861 version, Church replaced the cross with a boulder. In 1863, he added a meticulously detailed masthead with splintering wood, decomposing sail, and a crow’s nest. Like his tropical foliage, detail overwhelms a clear and uniform message. Church did not simply insert an unadorned cross or cruciform shape, nor did he return the entire ship to the painting. The instability of a single detail, the broken mast, begins a journey that leads away from conclusive interpretations and ends with a boundary that cannot be crossed.

fi g u r e 57 Thomas Cole, Landscape Composition, St. John in the Wilderness, 1827. Oil on canvas, 36 × 28 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ in. (91.4 × 73.5 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Daniel Wadsworth, 1848.16.


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The stakes of detail have changed in Church’s Arctic painting. In The Heart of the Andes, the proliferation of “so much” is both a source of visual delight and interpretive anxiety. The painting’s plentitude raises questions about the difference between seeing and knowing. But in The Icebergs, there is no abundance of life. There is a sign of death in the foreground that becomes a mark of deception: luring us over to the grotto like Actæon, setting us up to expect a “predictive” narrative. But the eye is instead moved into whiteness and then brought back to that wall of ice, with its haunting presence. The Icebergs sets us up to construct a story, and yet the picture is more like Church’s broadside: an ekphrastic description in which details are not treated hierarchically in terms of their value for the narrative. Rather, these details all seem, to use Barthes’s terms, “detached from the narrative’s semiotic structure.”65 Even more disturbing, such narrative structure does not even appear to exist. Both painting and broadside insist on close looking, and it is this kind of vision that reveals, according to Didi-Huberman, the detail’s “essential chaotic vocation.” Or, in Aristotelian terms: “Close-up knowledge of a painting loosens its formal cause from its material cause.”66 Thus looking closely means confronting the fundamental materiality of painting. This is what the eye encounters with the central iceberg: white paint, the stuff that representation is built from, but that also produces on close inspection “a veritable tyranny of the material.”67 Seeing in detail does not lead to a more comprehensive knowledge, as Ishmael discovers, no matter how much the object in question is cut apart, analyzed, or chased. The “close-up gaze produces nothing more here than interference, obstacle, ‘contaminated space,’ ” writes Didi-Huberman, using Ernst Bloch’s phrase.68 But this is not “nothing.” This is detail acting in violation of narrative, insisting that we see the significance—the tyrannical power—of interference and obstacle. Speculation and even skepticism are here given material form. If The Heart of the Andes presents a new model of visual subjectivity, The Icebergs suggests the implications of such a model: the isolation, or even muteness, that results when details speak against themselves.

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chapter 5

Details of Absence f rederic c h u rc h lef t the United States for a six-month sketching tour of Jamaica in April 1865. Although the artist created a voluminous portfolio of studies, he produced only one major canvas from that material,Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, completed two years after his return (fig. 58).1 The painting is constructed around an illuminated space in the center foreground (fig. 59). Viewing the picture from afar, the sweep of pink light that shines through the darkened veil of rain on the left leads the eye to this small area, as does the gentle curve of the river and the cascading hillside of tropical vegetation on the right. The terrain drops off both in front of and behind this patch of land, calling further attention to its isolation. There is no path to this place, nor is it occupied by pilgrims, a cross, or the artist’s signature, all features of Church’s otherwise equally profuse tropical landscape The Heart of the Andes. Nor are there details that seem like potentially revelatory symbols, as in The Icebergs. Vale of St.Thomas provides a place for spiritual significance, where landscape sets the stage for allegory, where we are asked to look and expect to learn.Yet instead we find a striking emptiness. Whereas the confrontation with “blankness,” to borrow Herman Melville’s word, in The Icebergs was set up by contemplating a series of details (mast, grotto, boulder) before arriving at the unreadable central iceberg, in Vale of St.Thomas, the viewer’s attention is immediately directed to this evocative spot.2 Where we expect to find Melville’s “one portentous something in the picture’s midst,” we encounter nothing.3 Or rather we encounter no “things”—just a patch of land painted in warm ruddy yellow hues as if the ground had been worn away, as if something had been here, right in this spot. Touches of whiter yellow mark its right side, the only place where the pigment has been built up other than the sun, which resembles those fiery globes in The Andes of Ecuador and Cotopaxi (see figs. 16, 33). But in the case of Vale of St.Thomas, the bright foreground space—rimmed with a cluster of rocks and delicately painted ferns, flowers, and grasses—is as captivating as the sun, if not more so. Why draw the eye here? Why do we feel that something is missing? What happens when seeing in detail means confronting an absence of detail? Considering Vale of St.Thomas, an American artist’s depiction of the British colony of Jamaica, requires examining the complex network of historical, cultural, and representational issues with which it engages: the economic impact of emancipation on the Jamaican landscape, the intersections between race and colonial violence, the invocation of visual memory, the construction of a Darwinian sublime, and the aesthetics of faith and doubt.

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fi g u r e 59 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, 1867. Oil on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, 1905.21. Previous Pages fi g u r e 58 Frederic Edwin Church, Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, 1867. Oil on canvas, 48 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 84 ⅝ in. (122.7 × 214.9 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, 1905.21.

alleg ory and absence Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica has most often been interpreted in relation to Frederic Church’s biography. The artist and his wife Isabel chose to journey to Jamaica following the loss of their two young children to diphtheria. The tragedy has been understood as the underlying metaphor of the painting. Elizabeth Kornhauser writes that Church “took care in imbuing his tropical landscape with a deeply spiritual meaning”; the painting, in her estimation, “embodied the artist’s emotional state at the time.” The storm recedes and the sun emerges.4 But the painting’s illuminated lack of symbolism seems both less explicable and more surprising given the facts of Church’s life. If the painting embodies a personal narrative—the traumatic experience of the death of two children—then why are there not more visible signs of faith or resurrection?5 By comparison, Church’s painting from nearly twenty years earlier, To the Memory of Cole, which is similarly constructed, explicitly memorializes the dead (fig. 60). Created as a tribute to Thomas Cole, the work clearly allegorizes loss, love, and faith. A white cross is front and center. Light illuminates this grave, brightening the area all around it and immediately focusing the attention here. In the shadows on the left a freshly cut tree stump refers both to death and to a favored visual icon of the deceased artist. Garlands of pink flowers swathe the cross protectively, their hue doubled by the rosy glow overhead. The sky clears above the billowing white clouds, drawing the viewer’s eyes upward. The rolling hills of the Catskills commemorate the artist’s home and beloved subject, as well as


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referencing works from Cole’s corpus: The Cross in the Wilderness (1845; Musée du Louvre) and The Cross and the World (c. 1846–47) from the final series of five deeply religious and allegorical paintings that remained unfinished upon his death and are now lost.6 Church’s painting even bears comparison to Cole’s own funereal verse “The Burial Ground at Catskill.” “The hill is climb’d and this is the place of rest,” the poem begins. Cole contemplates “my resting place” and describes an earthly realm of “deep repose.” “This is indeed a place of rest and such / Would be my choice if heav’n would grant my boon, / To be sepulchred here—to rest upon / The spot of earth that living I have lov’d.”7 Death returns the body to the earth, but in the final two lines the spirit casts off this “clay” and ascends “among the mountains and amid / The clouds” to a heavenly resting place.8 Cole provides interpretive direction, a “spot of earth” where the eye and mind can “rest” and contemplate something larger and more universal. Landscape, in other words, becomes a site of redirection, where soil or blasted trees are signs of mortality and rebirth. Natural details point elsewhere, toward abstract ideas, rather than being only, or merely, themselves. Church pays homage to his teacher’s allegorical mode in To the Memory of Cole. “What we encounter in this unpeopled, brilliantly lit meadow is the theater of

f i g u r e 60 Frederic Edwin Church, To the Memory of Cole, 1848. Oil on canvas, 32 × 49 in. (81.3 × 124.5 cm). Private collection. A. J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC, Seattle, Washington.

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fi g u r e 61 Frederic Edwin Church, Fern Walk, Jamaica, July 1865. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 12 ¼ × 13 ¼ in. (31.1 × 33.7 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.73.

another miraculous depetrification in progress,” argues Simon Schama in a brief and lively consideration of the painting, “the transformation of dusty death into the vital shoots of nature, a vegetable resurrection.”9 In Vale of St.Thomas the place for allegory remains, even if its visual correlative is pointedly missing. The languid ferns and small buds that surround this radiant “spot of earth” are unobtrusive and do not disclose any greater significance. A density of plant forms occupies the right edge. One critic later asserted that here “the detail [was] being worked out with much painstaking” effort.10 Such detail was the result of months of careful study and sketching. As Henry Tuckerman noted, Church’s scores of sketches included “minute and elaborate studies of vegetation—the palms, ferns, canebrakes, flowers, grasses, and lizards; in a word, all the materials of a tropical insular landscape, with every local trait carefully noted” (fig. 61).11 It is the local, not the universal or even the personal, that Vale of St.Thomas most clearly communicates. Instead of a narrativizing title or a cross in the earth, Vale of St.Thomas presents a tangle of botanical specimens and a vacant but illuminated prospect. Perhaps this is the ultimate statement of loss, as if even a memorial would be too painful, too orderly, or too final. Traveling to Jamaica was an attempt to gain distance from tragedy and gather creative material in a foreign land. Church finds new plants and vistas and skies to sketch there. Vale of St.Thomas is undoubtedly a


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product of this discovery. It is a painting deeply invested in forgetting, or rather the attempt to forget.

t he pi ctu r es que prospect Vale of St.Thomas both gestures toward and denies allegory, while proposing another possibility through which to read its compositional structure: the picturesque. Church’s empty spot functions as a prospect from which the viewer can imagine looking out over the vista, onto the bend of the river and the lush hills in the distance. A tree fern and twisted vines occupy the right corner, framing the scene and adding a depth of detail and visual interest.12 Such a prospect affords the viewer a sense of proprietary control, offering an elevation that has social, economic, and political connotations in the discourse of the picturesque.13 Physical elevation was connected to spiritual enlightenment and intellectual, or even national, superiority. One of the essayists for The Home Book of the Picturesque (1852) declared that Americans who followed the nation’s “rugged paths” and climbed its “celestial heights” were “harder workers, greater readers, and better thinkers, than persons of equal rank elsewhere.”14 Developed and vigorously debated in Britain in the late eighteenth century, and then adopted in the United States by the 1830s, the picturesque aesthetic variously emphasized the commanding view over the landscape, often from an unexpected or surprising spot, and the experience in the landscape, closely examining the natural irregularities that could excite the (refined) imagination.15 In England, Uvedale Price’s influential Essay on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful (1794) characterized the picturesque as predicated on both “variety” and “intricacy.” “Intricacy in landscape might be defined,” writes Price, as “that disposition of objects, which, by a partial and uncertain concealment, excites and nourishes curiosity.”16 The picturesque privileges detail. Larger effect is often left uncertain, while details are allowed to provoke curiosity and arouse the imagination. The aesthetic “raises expectation” and provides something different “from what we recollect having seen before.”17 The picturesque challenges memory. In Church’s Vale of St.Thomas, the picturesque prospect is as striking, and as visually compelling, as the view itself. By offering the “intricacy” only, this bright spot “raises expectations.” The light promises revelation, while botanical details close by pull the eye deeper into the picture. This is the crucial difference between Church’s empty prospect and a prospect that is “filled,” such as Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits (fig. 62). Both Durand and Church provide naturalistic foreground detail and compositional strategies that focus the vision. Durand creates an arboreal arc that gently telescopes the eye into the background, toward the curving mountains and the sky beyond. Church’s tree on the right of the canvas is not nearly as structurally imposing, but together with the storm clouds at the left—a crescent of

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fi g u r e 62 Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits, 1849. Oil on canvas, 44 × 36 in. (111.8 × 91.4 cm). Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

dark mist that echoes the shape of the river bend—the two natural elements frame the scene. What distinguishes Vale of St.Thomas from Kindred Spirits is the way in which the eye moves within the “framed” space. The two figures in Durand’s painting direct the viewer’s gaze, as if instructing us how to see. Thomas Cole, pictured on the right, is poised near the rocky ledge, engaged in discussion with his friend, the poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant. Both men display the relaxed postures of contemplation. The rocky prospect, with its wide, flat platform, substantial base, and slight upward tilt, provides both elevation and a comfortable assurance of stability. The figures stand at a safe distance from the edge, avoiding the thinner and more exposed outcropping that extends rather precariously over the river below. Thus the painting also steps back from the more powerful rhetoric of the


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sublime. Kindred Spirits instructs the viewer to look beyond, to follow Cole’s maulstick toward the gliding bird backlit by purplish mountains and the celestial light that draws the eye out past the forest canopy. Rather than evoking terror or awe, Durand’s picture invites a feeling of satisfaction. By following Cole’s deceptively simple turn of the body and extension of the arm, the wilderness can be possessed. Durand’s painting was a memorialization. Cole had died the previous year, in 1848, and the painting places the artist in his milieu, the Catskills, with a blasted tree in the shadowy foreground. The promise of resurrection seems implicit: Cole points toward the illuminated background, a bird moves into the diaphanous light of the heavens, while the figures themselves are in shadow. Cole’s gesture insists that the viewer look outward, beyond the body. What is in contrast so striking about Church’s painting is that the eye is invited to remain in the foreground, in the minutiae of botanical details, dwelling on a prospect that attracts our attention without providing direction. We are in a sense asked to remember, without being told what it is we should be remembering.

p lan tati on s and the picturesque The picturesque is predicated on selective revelation and, as Uvedale Price states, “partial and uncertain concealment.” This unstable balance was nowhere more apparent than in images of colonial landscapes. Here landscape becomes the “dreamwork of imperialism,” as W. J. T. Mitchell has argued, simultaneously disclosing the “utopian fantasies of the perfected imperial prospect” and the exploitation that enables such dreamscapes.18 British representations of Jamaica convert the plantation landscape and the Jamaican environment into spaces of order and calm productivity. Labor is aestheticized or concealed; racial conflict is removed. The island appears as a place of both striking fecundity and successful cultivation.19 As Karen O’Brien asserts about eighteenth-century British poetics, the tropics, with their “undisciplined landscape” and fraught racial politics, presented a particular challenge for artistic representation, especially while slavery still existed. Confronted by this weighty moral problem, writers “took the pastoral exit,” creating a West Indies that was a “seasonless landscape with no trace of laboring people” and in which “plantations are avoided or effaced.”20 Artists such as George Robertson in the late eighteenth century and James Hakewill and Joseph Bartholomew Kidd in the first half of the nineteenth century all produced views of Jamaica that naturalize the space and economy of the plantation, often by entirely omitting the plantation and its workers, or by making them small, merely visually appealing aspects of the composition. Kidd, a Scottish landscape painter, produced the most complete set of prints of the colonial island, offering fifty color lithographs in ten parts to subscribers beginning in the autumn of 1837, just months before enslaved Jamaicans became fully emancipated.21

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fi g u r e 63 Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, “Stewart Castle Estate,” plate 35 in West Indian Scenery: Illustrations of Jamaica, in a Series of Views Comprising the Principal Towns, Public Buildings, Estates and the Most Picturesque Scenery of the Island, 1837–40 (London and Kingston: W. Clerk, 1840). Lithograph with watercolor,Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Paul Mellon Collection. fi g u r e 64 Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, “Montego Bay from Upton Hill,” plate 49 in West Indian Scenery: Illustrations of Jamaica, in a Series of Views Comprising the Principal Towns, Public Buildings, Estates and the Most Picturesque Scenery of the Island, 1837–40 (London and Kingston: W. Clerk, 1840). Lithograph with watercolor,Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Paul Mellon Collection.

Employing the language of the picturesque, these images could mark a new era of emancipation by visually structuring the landscape as available, appealing, and cultivated by ostensibly free people.22 Kidd’s impressive set of lithographs, entitled West Indian Scenery: Illustrations of Jamaica, in a Series of Views Comprising the Principal Towns, Public Buildings, Estates and the Most Picturesque Scenery of the Island, was designed to appeal to the wealthy British “plantocracy.”23 The members of this class were deeply invested in the idea of Jamaica as a land of natural bounty and social stability, a place that could fit into English picturesque conventions while offering a frisson of foreign charm. When the smokestacks of sugar refineries are represented, they are nestled into the hills and, in an image entitled “Stewart Castle Estate,” made smaller than a languid herd of goats (fig. 63). If black Jamaicans are included, they are separated and disassociated from the harsh labor of plantation life. In “Montego Bay from Upton Hill,” they enjoy a picnic (fig. 64). The artist is careful to include only two figures engaged in a kind of pastoral conversation. With white colonials nervous about being outnumbered by black Jamaicans, the inclusion of any more than a couple of black figures might have made the threat of insurrection, and even revolution, too palpable for white viewers. As Thomas Holt has argued, anxieties over a black majority increased as emancipation was implemented. With a degree of new freedom, those who had been enslaved became a more powerful threat in the eyes of the colonial government and were also more keenly feared in the wake of the long and bloody revolution in Haiti.24 Kidd’s images each provide foreground interest that captures the attention and offers a means to read the rest of the picture. In “Stewart Castle Estate,” the goats pose at the front center of the image, occupying a raked plane of sunlight; in “Montego Bay from Upton Hill,” the male and female figures are also placed in the middle of the foreground, just out of the shadows where the sun cuts across the trim grass. In both images, the background is detailed but too distant to offer a narrative. Are those tiny figures that dot the background of “Stewart Castle” black


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laborers, formerly enslaved and still working under appalling conditions in the sugar refinery? Who populates the houses that hug the coastline of “Montego Bay”? There are no apparent answers to these questions. But, as in Kindred Spirits, the viewer interprets the background scene through the direction of the foreground prospect. In “Stewart Castle,” the grazing animals give the estate’s economic enterprise a pastoral sheen, aestheticizing the distant industrial landscape.25 In “Montego Bay,” the figures enjoying their midday repast implicitly assure the white viewer that Jamaica’s urban centers are calm, safe, and civilized, inhabited by black subjects of the Crown who themselves enjoy a picturesque view, even if this simultaneously implies a questionable work ethic. Laziness, that insidious stereotype of the black worker, was nevertheless preferable to violence. Vale of St.Thomas is constructed using the basic compositional strategy that Kidd follows: the horizontal landscape format, a tree on one side to frame the scene, background details (Church’s tiny white structure, the houses of “Montego Bay”) that are too small to claim clear narrative significance, and a prominently illuminated foreground area. But in Church’s painting this area is not filled with animals or humans, and thus the interpretive cues are also absent. The artist certainly had the opportunity to paint more traditionally picturesque images. On first arriving in Jamaica, Church and his wife stayed in the hamlet of Bellevue.26 One of their traveling companions, a young painter named Horace Wolcott Robbins, described the location as if he were perusing Kidd’s West Indian Scenery: “We overlook a vast plain covered with sugar & coffee estates—Kingston in the distance—the harbor— the old town of Port Royal—and beyond—the dark blue sea itself.”27 Kidd himself had even depicted the Great House of the “Belle Vue” estate (fig. 65). Kidd’s image includes a figure in the foreground who appears to be sketching the “portrait” of the stately abode. This artist is flanked by a young boy and an aristocratic woman

f i g u r e 65 Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, “Belle Vue, Residence near Kingston, Stoney Hill in the Distance,” plate 40 in West Indian Scenery: Illustrations of Jamaica, in a Series of Views Comprising the Principal Towns, Public Buildings, Estates and the Most Picturesque Scenery of the Island, 1837–40 (London and Kingston: W. Clerk, 1840). Lithograph with watercolor,Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Paul Mellon Collection.

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with her parasol in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. The careful geometry of the manicured lawn occupies most of the picture, although the muscular topography of the mountains and the ominous storm clouds on the horizon threaten to disrupt this scene of order and leisurely refinement. Frederic Church’s painting retains the atmospheric disruption while removing the cultured refinement. Church is more interested in capturing the botanical details of proliferation and decay: the white trumpet-shaped flowers of a morning glory opening up, the brown shriveled fern fronds wilting in the heat, the parasitical vines wrapping round a tree trunk. Decay, in the language of the picturesque, can be seen as a metaphor for temporality. But, as Kay Dian Kriz has argued, while decay in the “British Picturesque” is represented by “the material traces of human activity—crumbling abbeys and decrepit cottages,” in the “Jamaican Picturesque” it is nature alone that expresses the deteriorating effects of time.28

i llu m i nating aftermath

fi g u r e 66 Frederic Edwin Church, Tropical Vines and Trees, Jamaica, c. May–July 1865. Oil on paper mounted on wood, 18 ⅛ × 12 ½ in. (46 × 31.8 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1980.1948.

Isabel and Frederic Church traveled to Jamaica following both family and national tragedies. On March 18, 1865, two-year-old Herbert Edwin Church succumbed to diphtheria. On March 26, their five-month-old infant Emma Frances met the same fate. General Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, thus ending the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre on April 14 and died the next morning. On April 22, the Churches left the country. Such significant endings in such close proximity are not made explicit in Vale of St.Thomas. Rather they are the events that help to shape the painting in tone, content, and form. They are posed by the illumination of an absence. While Isabel Church found solace in talking to a friend about her lost children, her husband chose to remain silent. “He is very singular about that [and] never likes to speak of his feelings,” wrote their friend Horace Robbins. “He works away as if for dear life—& seems to be trying to forget his trouble by always keeping himself occupied.”29 Instead the artist embarked on “a frenzy of pencil and oil sketching” in Jamaica.30 He sought distraction in the great variety of tropical species, and his obsessive attention to detail is manifested at the right edge of Vale of St.Thomas. As in The Heart of the Andes, details seem to proliferate along the margins of the canvas, as if the vines were clinging to the edges. An oil study from the trip magnifies this effect. Tropical Vines and Trees, Jamaica is breathtakingly oppressive (fig. 66). The picture seems to be all foreground. Except for a patch of cloudy sky, the palette is restricted to shades of green. Each leaf is meticulously delineated with shapes ranging from long and slender to broad and deeply lobed to compact little saucer forms laced together as if on a necklace. Such dizzying variety and a steep vertical perspective creates a sense of claustrophobia. Vines, hanging down like choking tentacles, have overtaken a dead tree trunk. The picture abounds with life, and yet it


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fi g u r e 67 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Tropical Vines and Trees, Jamaica, c. May– July 1865. Oil on paper mounted on wood. Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1980.1948.

is a Darwinian form of life: competitive, violent, relentless. The image also evokes Ruskin’s characterization of the picturesque as “Parasitical Sublimity,” a beautifully disquieting phrase.31 Church’s canvases visualize Ruskin’s “parasitical sublimity” and Darwin’s “endless forms,” in which death is constantly intertwined with life.32 Writing to fellow artist and traveler Charles DeWolf Brownell fourteen years later, Church recalled his fascination with the tropical landscape. Brownell, who traveled extensively in Cuba and Jamaica, had sent some drawings for Church to critique. Your drawings are lifelike and I feel again on viewing [them] the emotions which so stirred my imagination in our beloved Tropics.


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f i g u r e 68 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, 1867. Oil on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, 1905.21.

I myself made a number of sketches of the “Parricide” and well call to mind some unusually ferocious monsters which were choking . . . trees whose drooping forms and sickly leaves betokened death—while the juicy flat leaves of the parasite seemed to clap their hands in fiendish joy—Twilight was the hour I watched the blotched demons—It required little effort of the imagination to endue them with cruel motives.33 Nature here is at its most monstrous, deadly, and cruel. And this is the lure of the tropics; it is, as Church writes, what “stirred my imagination.” The image that

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fi g u r e 69 Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866. Oil on canvas, 56 ¼ × 84 ¼ in. (142.9 × 214 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1970.9.

Brownell sketches, a tree being choked by parasitic vines, is a scene that, Church recalls in the same letter, “always excited [in] my mind peculiar emotions.”34 These are the same vines that proliferate so disturbingly in his oil study of 1865 and in the right foreground of Vale of St.Thomas (figs. 67, 68). The green parasites—those “unusually ferocious monsters” and “blotched demons”—“seem . . . to clap their hands in fiendish joy” as they choke the sickly tree. These adjectives and nouns evoke the horror and brutality of life being squeezed out of the tree with barbarous enthusiasm. But here are those “peculiar emotions”: Church does not recoil in disgust or outrage; he leans forward to watch, captivated even as night falls. He finds it easy to imagine the parasites’ “cruel motives.” Yet this act of “parricide” (the murder of a parent or relative) is, in nature, what also makes life possible. The vine kills the tree so that it may live. This is, of course, what Darwin discovers. Nature does not adhere to moral codes. Close observation reveals the contiguity of beauty and brutality, nature’s adaptive possibilities and parasitic realities. Looking at the natural world excites emotions that are “peculiar,” emotions that do not necessarily lead back to God. In his autobiography, written in 1876, nearly twenty years after The Origin of Species,


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Darwin recalls “the state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me,” and which he took to be “intimately connected with a belief in God.” And yet he finds that such experiences “did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music.”35 Thus the sublime that Darwin proposes is a post-Romantic concept, with natural rather than divine associations. It is also an inherently “difficult” concept. Sublimity cannot merely be equated with spirituality simply because the two share powerful effects. Analogy is not explanation. Nature does not inevitably lead to God. There is a certain freedom in this, but also a disorienting loss. With its unsettling absence, Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica recalls, but conceals, the shock of inexplicable loss. Back in New York, Church had left behind an unfinished canvas of exuberant optimism, Rainy Season in the Tropics, as if such promise and certainty of purpose—a full rainbow arched across the sky, spot-lit travelers below, the air fresh with dew—were impossible to maintain at such a moment (fig. 69).36 Rainy Season depicts a mythical, mist-enshrouded tropics of the imagination, as emphasized in a stereograph of the finished painting installed in his Tenth Street Studio, surrounded by palm fronds and contemplated by a white marble bust (fig. 70). Although the right corner of the painting has some characteristics of The Heart of the Andes and Vale of St.Thomas, the fantastical topography—the treeless mountains like wrinkled, fleshy skin—differentiates it, as does the brief painterly

f i g u r e 70 S. Beer, “Rainy Season in the Tropics” on View in Frederic Church’s Tenth Street Studio, New York, New York, c. 1866. Stereograph, 3 ¼ × 6 ¾ in. (8.3 × 17.1 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1985.815.

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passage in the lower right, where the brown rocks look almost as if they are melting down into the path below. Here the artist has signed the canvas “in” a puddle of water, nearly obscuring parts of his name. Rainy Season in the Tropics is a kind of dream world, almost evaporating before our eyes. Vale of St.Thomas, by contrast, constructs a palpable sense of place through a strict attention to detail, down to those “juicy flat leaves of the parasite.” If The Heart of the Andes was the first fully realized expression of such detail—a giddy, expansive painting by an artist enthralled with his own abilities—Vale of St.Thomas is the revelation that details come with a cost.

th e si te of death Death both preceded and followed Church’s trip to Jamaica. In October 1865, just over a month after the artist and his wife returned to the United States, violence erupted between black Jamaicans and white British colonials in Morant Bay.37 The rebellion began when hundreds of black ex-slaves, protesting land inequality and disenfranchisement, marched into the town to demand justice. The crowd was fired upon, resulting in several deaths. The insurgents responded by killing eighteen people and taking control of the town. The British colonials, fearing for their lives and conscious of being vastly outnumbered, struck back fiercely and swiftly. Governor Eyre, whom Church had met during his visit, ordered a brutal suppression and a period of martial law in which more than four hundred black Jamaicans were killed, hundreds were injured, and a thousand homes burned.38 In the aftermath, Governor Eyre was dubbed both a murderer and a hero. Upon returning to England in 1866, his detractors formed the Jamaica Committee and called for Eyre to be tried for excessive force and even murder. Charles Darwin was a member of the committee, along with other liberal luminaries such as John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. Those who came to Eyre’s defense included John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, and Charles Dickens. No case ever went to trial.39 Many in the British upper and middle classes who supported Eyre had sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War. With textile factories in Lancashire dependent on the South’s raw cotton, and with this supply all but cut off during the conflict, fears of the increasingly dire economic consequences of Southern defeat and emancipation prompted support for the Confederacy. The left-leaning members of the middle and working classes tended to favor the Union and later opposed Eyre’s actions in Jamaica. It was this group that saw no possible moral or economic justification for slavery and argued during the same period for broader enfranchisement in England.40 The struggles in Jamaica provoked deep feelings about race and labor in both England and the United States. The press on both sides of the Atlantic extensively covered the Morant Bay Rebellion and the Eyre controversy. One of the first newspapers to break the news about the violent suppression in Jamaica was, in fact, an


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American paper. A headline in the New York Herald proclaimed, “Eight Miles of Dead Bodies.”41 An article in the New York Times several months later was comparatively calm, the author concluding that it was “quite certain that more is now known of Jamaica in Europe and America than ever, and that some benefit must result from the recent unhappy disturbances.” This “benefit” would be the “increased trade and cultivation . . . of the rich resources of this fertile island.”42 Jamaica’s abundant but neglected resources are the subjects of the newspaper reporter’s concluding thoughts. “I don’t think that five miles can be traveled, on any road in Jamaica,” wrote a New York Times correspondent in 1860, “without seeing one deserted estate at the very least.” They were “anywhere and everywhere a melancholy sight to look upon,” surrounded by “splendidly fertile land overgrown with brushwood and rank weeds.” 43 In a sense, these are the subjects of Church’s painting: a fertile landscape, marked by absence. And it was this absence that was the central theme of one of the most interesting and controversial examinations of the island in the nineteenth century: John Bigelow’s Jamaica in 1850; or,The Effects of Sixteen Years of Freedom on a Slave Colony. Bigelow, an editor at the New York Evening Post, reported that four hundred thousand acres of plantations lay abandoned by 1850.44 Nine-tenths of the island’s land was owned by absentee landlords, meaning that most of Jamaica’s estates were managed by overseers, bookkeepers, and lawyers, if they functioned at all. The country was wracked by “poverty and industrial prostration,” despite its fertile lands. “Shipping has deserted her ports,” Bigelow lamented. “Her magnificent plantations of sugar and coffee are running to weeds; her private dwellings are falling to decay; the comforts and luxuries which belong to industrial prosperity have been cut off, one by one, from her inhabitants.”45 The cause of this decline was not, according to the journalist, the emancipation of enslaved people, but rather the absence and incompetence of the plantation owners, who functioned within a corrupt colonial system. The solution seemed, to Bigelow, self-evident. “Nothing is more probable,” he states, “in respect to the political fate of the island, twenty years hence, than that it will be one of the United States of America. It can probably be governed more cheaply and to more profit by our people than by any other, and both nations will probably discover before that period, that their mutual interests may be consulted by the transfer.”46 The island’s notable emptiness could be “filled” by the United States. During a time of increased American expansionism, such a proposal (or fantasy) carried imperial connotations.47 From the first pages, Bigelow connects the Jamaican landscape to issues of abandonment and economic bankruptcy. Before he has even disembarked from the boat, both “luxuriant foliage” and “abandoned coffee estates” capture his attention. Here, in the depth of winter, orange trees were dropping their fruit, and the bananas were ready to be plucked; the lignumvitae

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tree waved its luxuriant foliage, ornamented with a delicate blossom of surpassing beauty; and in the distance, our eyes were directed to the waving sugar fields of the Caymanos, and on the mountains, to the abandoned coffee estates, belonging to the bankrupt Duke of Buckingham. I was most impatient to get on shore, that I might stray into the country and stare the wonders of tropical vegetation full in the face.48 Like Church, Bigelow is anxious to examine the lush tropical vegetation closely, to “stare the wonders . . . full in the face,” as if to consume them with all the intensity his senses will allow. The two most significant aspects of Bigelow’s first impression of the Jamaican landscape are also the most striking characteristics of Church’s painting: proliferation and absence. But while Bigelow names the absence—in this case, the abandoned estate of the Duke of Buckingham—Church does not. Thus Vale of St. Thomas functions both inside and outside its “history.” Its empty space can be read as a reference, whether intentional or not, to what was visually self-evident in Jamaica by 1850, and remained so in 1865: abandoned plantations. But by not naming this as such, and by not including any indication of a particular estate, Church ensures that the painting cannot be read solely in terms of the politics of his time. This is the most significant difference between Church’s painting and representations of Jamaica by earlier British artists such as Joseph Kidd. Kidd’s images depend on naming the view; this is their primary purpose. Their title and their compositional elements all point to ownership, whether specifically stated or broadly implied. In “Belle Vue,” the estate’s Great House is portrayed, along with some of its privileged inhabitants. In “Montego Bay from Upton Hill,” the heightened perspective, looking down on the town as well as on the two peaceful black picnickers, implies a more abstract, and imperial, sense of ownership. With his prints marketed to the British upper class, images like “Montego Bay” would have provided the prospect of possession: possession of an active port town, of a lovely, ordered landscape, and of the island’s colonial subjects, those “civilized” former slaves. By the time Church visited in 1865, talk of Jamaica as a United States possession or possible state had ceased. The Civil War had ended and the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in every state and in all U.S. territories, had been passed. The island’s economic regeneration was still discussed in the American press, with an eye toward the potential benefits to the United States, but abandoned estates remained a visual and financial fact in Jamaica. By 1888, when James Anthony Froude published The English in the West Indies, such emptiness could be used as a manifestation of, and a metaphor for, the fall of an empire. “The palaces of the English planters and merchants fall to decay; their wines and their furniture, their books and their pictures, are sold or dispersed. Their existence is a struggle


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to keep afloat, and one by one they go under in the waves.”49 At the same time, Jamaica began to turn toward tourism as its new economic engine. Violent insurrections became rhetorically equated with natural disasters—storms that the island had weathered, almost as if they too were a form of the picturesque.50 Returning to the United States in September of 1865, Church painted Vale of St.Thomas over the next two years. There are no overt references to the bloody Morant Bay Rebellion, but violence and death still mark the picture. As Tim Barringer argues, the artist “could not escape the fact that the Jamaican landscape, and Jamaican society, was haunted by the legacy of slavery.”51 This was also a period of intense debate about Darwinian evolution, when issues of race and heredity, issues at the heart of imperialism, were being translated into a new scientific language and absorbed by the public. The Morant Bay Rebellion took place at exactly this moment when, as Tim Watson argues, “what we might call the romantic and scientific (or realist) understandings of blood, race, and inheritance still overlapped.”52 The landscape that Church portrays can be seen as a reflection of the instability and uncertainty of the 1860s and of post-emancipation Jamaica specifically. The “sublimely desolate” Vale of St.Thomas is, according to Barringer, an “image of an unpeopled landscape in which the cultivation of sugar is erased, but its stains and shadows cannot be erased.”53 The painting thematizes absence, the erasure of history—both national and personal—from the lush landscape, even as history is signified by the presence of a bright but empty spot. The painting’s darkness also seems evocative, as if Church had incorporated the thick black smoke produced by the island’s sugar refineries into his dramatic veil of dark sky. Perhaps, then, the painting also enacts the erasure and translation of a bloody past closer to home. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December 1865, just after Church returned from Jamaica. As the United States entered its own fraught post-emancipation period, citizens read about the startling events in postemancipation Jamaica. While Church was beginning to paint Vale of St.Thomas, his own nation was struggling with its own “stains and shadows”: the scars of the Civil War, a president’s death, the legacy of slavery. Church’s painting was commissioned by Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, the wealthy widow of arms manufacturer Samuel Colt. Mrs. Colt, like the Churches, had suffered terrible misfortunes: the death of her husband in 1862, as well as the loss of three children, all in fewer than six years. As a memorial to her husband, and with Frederic Church as her adviser, she created a picture gallery for her grand home, Armsmear, which overlooked Colt’s armory in Hartford, Connecticut, and installed Church’s canvas as a focal point.54 Vale of St. Thomas was therefore painted in the aftermath of the deadliest war in U.S. history, for a woman who had endured great personal tragedies during that period and who had also amassed a fortune from the sale of guns.55

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fai th a nd doubt Church’s picture, with its hauntingly empty prospect, evokes a landscape with a deadly history. But, through its title, the painting also invokes something else: the miracle of rebirth. The artist depicts the Jamaican parish of St. Thomas in the Vale. The name evokes Saint Thomas the Apostle, also called “Doubting Thomas.” Upon hearing from the other disciples that Jesus had risen, Thomas declares that he will not believe in the resurrection until he has seen and touched Jesus’s wounds (John 20:24–29). Eight days later Christ appears and responds to Thomas: “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” Although the Bible does not state whether Thomas does this, in the next line, Thomas responds with certainty: “My Lord and my God.” His doubt assuaged, his faith is restored. But faith, Jesus tells him, is most beautifully expressed by belief without such proof. “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Saint Thomas becomes the personification of both doubt and faith. In Caravaggio’s famous painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Thomas penetrates Jesus’s wound, his finger pointing at and into the body of Christ (fig. 71). The painting envisions the uncomfortable, even violent, act of testing faith: “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” All heads bow in concentration as Jesus leads Thomas’s hand into the wound. The painting has a chilling physicality, as if it also breaches the barrier between seeing and feeling as the invasive tip of the finger raises the delicate flap of skin. Probing with the eyes becomes probing with the hand. For Thomas, the eyes alone are insufficient to overcome doubt; to touch is to know. What exists, what is real, can be felt. But since it is not clear whether Thomas actually did “thrust” his hand into Christ’s side, Thomas’s doubt is, in the end, also left in doubt. What is clear is that the story is an opportunity to comment on the nature of faith—to assert that faith is belief when the eyes and the hands cannot provide assurance or evidence: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” In the face of reason, faith begins with that simple but difficult phrase: “and yet.” Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica is a painting that struggles, as Saint Thomas did, with those two words. In the center foreground an illuminated prospect leads us to expect something. Why do we have such an expectation? Because Church’s previous paintings have so often filled this spot. Expectation, in other words, is dependent on memory: remembering details like the white cross in To the Memory of Cole or the bright path in The Heart of the Andes. Vale of St.Thomas tests us. If we forget such details, we will not question. Church’s painting is in a sense a test of faith—not religious, but aesthetic. Will you, like Saint Thomas, need more proof to believe? If you do not see, can you really know?


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The painting is a provocation. Vale of St.Thomas offers both doubt and possibility. Ferns, flowers, and creeping vines overtake the right foreground, and the specter of death appears to haunt the landscape. Church wrote to Elizabeth Colt about the picture, “The sun is struggling . . . subdued by the veil of mist and rain.” And yet. The dark clouds seem to be retreating; the sun, an orange globe perched on the horizon line, may be burning through. “It shines (or I wish it to) with almost dazzling light,” the artist told his patron.56 If there is faith, it begins with a vision of doubt.

f i g u r e 71 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St.Thomas, 1601–2. Oil on canvas, 42 ⅛ × 57 ½ in. (107 × 146 cm). Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany.

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chapter 6

Vertical Light as he pa in ted Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, Church began planning his next major trip. Rather than an exploration of the tropics or the Arctic, the artist chose a more well-traveled itinerary for himself, his wife, and their new baby, with time in Paris and London followed by a longer stay in the Middle East during the winter and spring of 1868. With his family settled in Beirut, Church could undertake more rigorous journeys to key sites in the Holy Land, most notably an expedition to Petra accompanied by two clergymen—the Reverends D. Stuart Dodge, an American missionary, and Alexander Fowler, a British minister—whose presence underscored the religious motivation of the trip. The difficult and at times dangerous trek to Petra constituted both a spiritual pilgrimage and an aesthetic quest. While there the painter sketched this long-abandoned city’s strange monuments: towering façades of buildings carved out of rose-colored stone. Six years later, Church returned to these sketches to create El Khasné, Petra, one of his most arresting compositions (fig. 72). It may be, according to one scholar, his last entirely right-handed picture before degenerative rheumatism set in and painting became increasingly more difficult, especially at a large scale.1 By the 1870s, Church was no longer a celebrity of the art world and his works were increasingly faulted for their attention to detail.2 In this painting of the Holy Land, the artist dispenses with many of the traditional features of landscape painting. There is no sky beyond a mountain range, no framing trees or foliage; in fact, there is no background at all and therefore no visual recession between near and far space. One critic at the time called it “a great upright landscape.”3 The painting’s focused, flattened composition creates a telescopic effect, as if Church were attempting to distill its essence into a glimpse of light and rock, reducing this spiritual site to a single detail. El Khasné, Petra represents the artist’s most compelling engagement with the limitations of landscape painting in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.

tom bs and mon u ments Rediscovered during the Romantic period, the ancient city of Petra (meaning “rock” in ancient Greek) had been the capital of the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea and a thriving center of commerce for hundreds of years beginning in the second century b.c. Costly goods from China and India—ivory, perfumes, spices, and silks—came through Petra on their way to Mediterranean markets. The city, in present-day Jordan, was built on a plain bordered by cliffs, and the Nabateans

f i g u r e 72 Frederic Edwin Church, El Khasné, Petra, 1874. Oil on canvas, 60 ½ × 50 ¼ in. (153.7 × 127.6 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.10.


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carved their buildings out of the rock. They also carved out a necropolis, creating monumental tombs for their royal leaders. One such tomb is the “Khazneh,” a tomb of an unknown king, which Church chose as his subject.4 The city declined after the Romans took over in a.d. 106, and new trade routes by sea replaced the camel caravans that had made Petra so vital. An earthquake destroyed many buildings in a.d. 363, and the city fell silent. Few people remained or remembered its dazzling glory. The city and its monuments became a site of European interest after Johann Ludwig Burckhardt passed through Petra in 1812 and published his account in Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (1822). After that, Westerners came in increasing numbers, many as part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Although the city had been replaced long before by desert sands, the towering monuments carved in rock remained.5 Church was immediately fascinated by this mysterious site and its “astonishing” optical effects.6 Here was a “beautiful temple,” he wrote in his diary, “shining as if by its own internal light.”7 In Arabic, “khazneh” means “treasury.”8 But the Khazneh is not a treasury, as was often assumed in the nineteenth century. It is a tomb: its façade and embellishments are characteristic of tombs, and the structures adjacent to it are all tombs. But, as the most prominent tomb in the city, presumably created for a king, the Khazneh was also made to look like a temple in order to emphasize the importance of the deceased.9 According to scholars, what sets this temple-like tomb apart is its tremendous height (127 feet), its dramatic framing—provided by the narrow, rocky corridor of the “Siq,” through which one could access the monument—and its “amazingly delicate details.”10 Church sketched by candlelight while visiting the tomb “for the purpose of fixing these details now fresh in my memory.”11 The friezes, capitals, consoles, and pediments of the Khazneh are decorated with flora and fauna of all kinds: grapes, pomegranates, poppies, pinecones, wheat, laurel, and ivy. These details all signify life after death. Castor and Pollux, who flank the entrance, continue this theme; they served to protect travelers in this world and in the next by accompanying the dead to the afterlife. The figure on the top center portico is often identified as Isis, the personification of grief who, in mourning for her murdered brother Osiris, had condemned the earth to winter. Only after Osiris was resurrected could the world again enjoy the bounty of warmth.12 The Khazneh thus represented loss and rebirth, death and life. But Church’s painting does not make such symbolism apparent, despite noting “the grapes and pomegranates with appropriate leaves” in his journal and describing the ornamentation “as sharp as if just finished” in a letter to a friend.13 The smaller decorative motifs register as organic forms, rather than specific plants, a notable departure from his depictions of animate nature in previous canvases. There is an effect of precision: curling tendrils springing out from the columns’ capitals; dentil molding below the cornices; the refined, geometric forms of the pediment and the doorway, all of


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f i g u r e 73 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, El Khasné, Petra, 1874. Oil on canvas. Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.10.

which stand in contrast to the surrounding dark rocks (fig. 73). These rocks convey an unformed, primal sense. Black strokes delineate their topography, the canvas often scratched by the brush hairs, giving the surface itself a roughness that is rare in Church’s paintings. The figures in relief are unreadable—they were, as the artist wrote, “worn and disfigured” on the monument14—but on Church’s canvas they adopt a much more apparitional quality, as if they were receding into the smooth stone behind them. In Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, the absence of any monument is the painting’s most striking feature. In El Khasné, Petra, it is the presence of a monument that creates ambiguity. Church paints a monument for an unknown ruler, a city once a rich capital for trade that became a desert necropolis, a “treasury” with no treasure.

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m appi ng and framing Church struggled to translate into words the allure of this ancient monument, his fascination evident throughout his letters and diary from the journey. Writing to his close friend the sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, he describes “the strangest scene of desolation.”15 The painter spends pages in his journal attempting to characterize the color of the Khazneh, not only owing to its unique hue (“a beautiful rich reddish salmon color—miscalled pink by some travelers”), but also because of a more practical reason: the Petra Bedouins generally did not allow any images to be made of the site. As the story went, an artist had once been shot while attempting to draw it. Although Church was not disturbed, he created his sketches in a distinctly tense and unpredictable atmosphere.16 It is as if he hoped to relay the drama of the scene by portraying only the haunting illumination “blazing out of black stern, frightful rocks.”17 With its vertical format and lack of sky, El Khasné, Petra is not an expansive composition like so many of Church’s other works. An earlier painting based on his trip to the Holy Land, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, adopted a panoramic breadth and was criticized for its factual and cartographic nature (fig. 74). The public’s interest in the work could be attributed, one reviewer wrote, to “the topographic details rather than the creative wholeness.”18 Visitors were provided with an engraved key that numbered and named the sites and further encouraged them to focus on those details, many of which were so small as to be nearly indiscernible to the naked eye, and certainly not identifiable without the key (fig. 75). Like opera glasses, which spectators also used, the key is a kind of visual prosthetic, but rather than encouraging a more subjective optical experience, it provides a clear set of

fi g u r e 74 Frederic Edwin Church, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, 1870. Oil on canvas, 54 ¼ × 84 ⅜ in. (137.8 × 214.3 cm). The NelsonAtkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, F77–40/1.


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f i g u r e 75 Key to “Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives,” 1870–71. Engraving, 6 × 9 ½ in. (15.2 × 24.1 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, F77–40/2.

directions as to how to read the canvas, where to stand, and what to look at. What is significant and what is insignificant are quite literally mapped out, as if to counteract the effect of the opera glasses as well as the tiny scale of the holy city. “The spectator is supposed to stand in the early spring on the Mount of Olives, facing the West,” the line of text states at the bottom of the key. Thus the American viewer, as John Davis has argued, could “follow in the footsteps of Christ, beholding the ‘same’ religious vision of the ancient landscape and walled city.” But without the key, looking at the painting alone with its miniscule yet “almost unbearably insistent” details, the viewer might miss this divine vision.19 El Khasné, Petra has no key or map-like clarity. Flanked by hulking, dark masses of rock, the temple façade appears in an angled glimpse. This rocky corridor provides a frame within a frame, producing the sense of seeing only one detail of a greater whole. Distinguished both visually and materially from the delicate monument with its smooth surfaces, the framing rocks on either side are more painterly, an accumulation of deep brown and black strokes applied in all directions. The narrow, shadowy pathway between the cliffs leads the eye to the luminous tomb. The effect is comparable to looking through opera glasses: peripheral vision is cut off and the focus becomes a point of interest in the distance, brought closer and also bounded by the lens. The viewer is, in effect, asked to crop out much of the painting, to read the rocks as a frame around a detail, even as this complicates the narrative gesture in the immediate foreground. How does one reconcile the two Bedouin figures (fig. 76) and the “framing” with the monument beyond? This sense of cropping, of detailing, is only enhanced by the odd perspective. Rather than representing a vantage point from above, the artist places the viewer near the ground, at a visual disadvantage. As a result of this perspective from middle space, there is no clear indication of one’s relationship to the subject, and thus the monument becomes an even more ambivalent object.

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fi g u r e 76 Detail of Frederic Edwin Church, El Khasné, Petra, 1874. Oil on canvas. Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.10.

Petra, Church writes, “has the charm of uncertainty.”20 In its very form, El Khasné, Petra replicates the stunned state that Church, and so many travelers, experienced when first encountering the Khazneh.21 One feels, the painter wrote, “engulfed among the most tremendous of these sublime precipices.”22 Like the traveler and the viewer, the reflection of the monument in the gorge’s shallow stream seems to be squeezed between the precipices that constituted the Siq, that “tortuous road” leading to the tomb.23 This reflection stretches in shivering lines to the edge of the canvas to form a tenuous link between the viewer and the rock face beyond. But the illusion of three-dimensional depth is overwhelmed by the two-dimensional verticality of both the towering cliffs and the rose-colored façade between. The spot from which Church chose to portray the Khazneh was not the ideal perspective to view the monument, according to the guidebook Church owned, J. L. Porter’s Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine (1858). For a “commanding spot,” Porter suggested that the traveler climb a high cliff on the north side of the necropolis. Here the monuments would “spread out before him like a map.”24 Church’s vantage point provides anything but a sweeping, map-like vista. As John Davis notes, this would have come as a denial of the observer’s expectations, as the viewer of Church’s painting would have anticipated not only a horizontal composition but also a more forceful, confrontational narrative including the two Bedouin figures who emerge from a cavern in the left foreground.25 Both carry long rifles, their postures indicating a sense of readiness and unease, facing outward as if guarding the site.Yet these figures are extremely difficult to discern, and they do not directly engage us; rather, they look out at the viewer, appealing to something


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beyond or behind the spectator’s vantage point, something unseen. “The strange significance of minor characters,” writes Alex Woloch, “resides largely in the way that the character disappears, and in the tension or relief that results from this vanishing.”26 Instead of generating anxiety through anecdote, through a depiction of conflict between the foreground characters, the painting provides a formal anxiety through the figures. They seem to merge with the shadows cast by the walls of the passageway, as if mimicking those dissolving statues in the relief on the temple’s face. The cliffs close in, creating a sense of claustrophobia. Porter conveys this fear and vulnerability in his prose: “Constantly winding, too, one seems at every new turn to be shut in on all sides, and hopelessly imprisoned in the very bowels of the earth.Yet here, in this cleft, from whence the light of day is well-nigh excluded, into the depths of which no solitary ray of sunlight can penetrate, traces of art and industry are everywhere visible.”27 The author goes on to cite the ancient remains that line the path: pieces of pavement, niches where statues were once placed, tablets, an aqueduct, and earthen pipes.28 Here art and anxiety exist together, each amplifying the effect of the other. Church chooses not to depict a panoramic view, although he sketched such a vantage point and owned a photograph of a more direct view. Instead he paints a picture where one is “shut in on all sides.” El Khasné, Petra denies one of the key components of landscape: background. In a pencil sketch of the site, Church had included the merest hint of a background space, a narrow vertical area at the very top of the sheet, underlined and labeled: “sky” (fig. 77).29 In the painting, no hint of it remains. The eye is not allowed to escape into the distant light, such as the warm haze beyond the ancient ruins in Syria by the Sea, a painting inspired by the same Middle Eastern trip (fig. 78). Instead the eye is kept locked in the crevice of light between the cliffs, unable to move up to the sky or within to the interior of the temple which glows “as if by its own internal light.” Although Porter describes a similar sense of entrapment, he still manages to move from enclosure to the resolution of epiphanic emergence: After winding through this strange and gloomy passage, contending here with the straggling branches of the oleander, and there with fallen rocks, a scene of exquisite beauty—of almost fairy splendour—suddenly bursts upon our view, for which all we have yet seen has not prepared us. A rosy-tinted rock appears between the perpendicular walls of the chasm, within a huge niche of which stands the noble façade of the great temple of Petra, the Khuzneh [an alternative spelling]. It is now we see the magic influence of the morning sun, as the rays fall slanting on this monument, revealing its fine proportions by the most

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artistic blending of light and shade, and bringing out the minutest details of its gorgeous colouring.30 Porter takes the reader on a journey from darkness to light, and not just the temple’s “light,” but the “magic influence of the morning sun.” In Church’s painting, the iridescent temple-tomb remains distant and intangible. The surface is smooth and the brush strokes invisible here, in contrast to the sketchy quality of the rest of the scene, including the one botanical element: a cluster of scrubby bushes at the

fi g u r e 77 Frederic Edwin Church, El Khazneh, Studies of Architectural Details, Petra, Jordan, February 1868. Graphite on olive-green wove paper, 14 ⅞ × 10 ⅞ in. (37.8 × 27.6 cm). Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, New York, Gift of Louis P. Church, 1917-4-588.


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f i g u r e 78 Frederic Edwin Church, Syria by the Sea, 1873. Oil on canvas, 56 × 85 in. (142.2 × 215.9 cm). Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mrs. James F. Joy.

opening of the passageway, their leaves not minutely worked out as in the Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica or The Heart of the Andes, but instead signified by rapid little touches of green paint. The rocks, striated by the lines of the brush pulling through the pigment, both block the light of the sun and reflect it, appearing as orange and red highlights scattered across the dark paint near the opening. The sense of restriction produced by the painting’s subjects—tomb, narrow passageway, foreground figures, reflected light—duplicates the entrapment of the viewer’s eye. Instead of a spiritual axis, with the horizontality of sky meeting earth, El Khasné, Petra provides a new and unsettling corporeal axis. The verticality of the human body—the viewer’s body—is re-created by the towers of rock and the tall, bright monument between them. The color of the stone is even composed of “delicate flesh tints,” as one critic described it.31 Through its form, the painting confronts the viewer more directly, more viscerally, than any of Church’s earlier canvases. What results is a sense of both intimacy and obstruction. The monument shines with the startling brilliance of The Andes of Ecuador but provides no religious analogy. The details of the actual tomb—Isis, Castor and Pollux—may refer to an afterlife or the possibility of redemption, but the painting itself obscures them.

s er mon s i n ston e At the height of his career, Church stopped submitting his major works to the National Academy of Design, a move that was a source of annoyance for some critics and a point of resentment for some fellow artists. But by the time he produced El Khasné, Petra, his commercial fortunes had waned, and he was once again sending significant pictures to the academy. His painting of Petra was included in the academy’s annual exhibition in 1874, where it received mixed reviews. The New York

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World gave it a pat dismissal, echoing a common criticism of Church’s works, especially after 1870. “ ‘El Khasné’ is a ‘sensation’ picture,” the critic wrote. “It is boldly, obtrusively obvious, and that is the fault with all sensationalism.”32 The New York Herald looked for a religious moral in the midst of an otherwise disturbing depiction of stone monumentality. “In this work the sense of loneliness and desolation is increased by the calm quiet of the sunshine playing on the façade of the dead temple as it might on the petrified face of a corpse. It is perhaps well that we have some one to preach to us amid our feverish life the sermons that lie hidden in stones.”33 Death, like those “dead white” icebergs described by the broadside for The Icebergs, returns in this painting of a tomb in the desert. Both El Khasné and The Icebergs thematize “loneliness and desolation” as well as death. El Khasné evokes “the petrified face of a corpse,” and indeed a face with cavernous eyes seems to stare out from the rock wall on the left.34 Critics found faces in both paintings and tried to attach narratives of redemption to each. But Church does not make this easy. If there are “sermons that lie hidden in the stones,” then what does El Khasné, Petra preach? What could its corpse-like façade convey that would uplift and inspire? “El Khasné,” writes another critic, conflating painting and monument, is “desolate and forsaken, the home of the bat and the owl, the vulture and the raven.”35 And with that grim evocation of nocturnal creatures and carrion birds, he ends his review. Other reactions to the painting are marked by nostalgia. A writer for the Chicago Sunday Times projected himself into the painting, creating both a narrative and an imagined architectural tour of what is not represented in the canvas. The temple stands like a dream, and as the spectator sits down before it he will be apt to fall into a train of thought almost as unpractical. There is a door in the vestibule; take of this dreamy mood and step inside.You need not leave your chair to do it. Passing under the portal you will find yourself in a lofty room, plain and fair; back of this another, similar, but smaller. Small lateral chambers open from the vestibule. All this we have read, and are sure it is so, but are not doubly sure because, with imagination’s lively aid, we have seen it.36 The critic needs more than what the artist depicts, more opportunities for emotion and imagination, and so he, like Rev. Louis Legrand Noble describing what lies outside the frame of The Heart of the Andes, creates them himself, hoping that a story or moral might still be possible. When the painting had been first exhibited a year earlier, in the spring of 1874, the New York correspondent for the same paper had also professed a desire for narrative details and for narrative resolution. “It is a striking and not agreeable


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picture. . . . It is a scene that is suggestive of a desolation that is not fully expressed, and it leaves us to hope that when the weather clears, and the times change, everything will be made right somehow or other between those two rocks.”37 This writer admits a nostalgia for what the painting refuses to offer: a time of clarity and harmony, a rosy sky instead of rosy rock. Neither desolation nor clarity is “fully expressed” in the painting and thus a disorienting ambivalence results. What seems to disturb this critic the most is that he himself must “hope that when the weather clears, and the times change, everything will be made right somehow.” The painting is unwilling or unable to provide such hope. The sense of loss suggested by Church’s painting is also apparent in the revision of J. L. Porter’s Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine. The original edition, published in 1858 and which Church owned, was “revised and partly rewritten” for a new edition in 1875. The earlier guidebook provides a lengthy and fanciful description of the Khazneh: The age of the monument can only be guessed at, and its very object is [a] matter of controversy. Was it a temple constructed in honour of some god, or a mausoleum hewn out in memory of some man? It is in vain we inquire. It bears no inscription, preserves no name, has no story. “There it stands as it has stood for ages, in beauty and loneliness,” having no legend of the olden time, no theme on which the muse might soar to celebrate its past glories. Its rich tints are now lighted up by the morning sun, and now cast into shade as he goes down beneath the western cliffs; like the magical creation of some splendid night vision petrified, it strikes the eye once, and ever after haunts the memory.38 In this Romantic commentary on the site, ruins disintegrate in glorious splendor and provoke the imagination. The lack of names or narratives only enhances the monument’s “beauty and loneliness” as it “haunts the memory.” But the edited and rewritten text from 1875, almost exactly contemporaneous with El Khasné, Petra, is radically shorter and much more stark. Memory and imagination cannot replace knowledge. Questions remain unanswered. The age of the monument can only be guessed at and its object is [a] matter of controversy. Was it a temple? or a mausoleum? It is in vain we enquire. It bears no inscription, preserves no name, has no story.39 Gone is the speculation about the temple as architectural genuflection, or even as a monument of historical significance. Gone is the praise of its transcendent, ageless

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fi g u r e 79 Frederic Edwin Church, The Aegean Sea, c. 1877. Oil on canvas, 54 × 63 ¼ in. (137.2 × 160.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Mrs. William H. Osborn, 1902, 02.03.

beauty. Gone are the morning sun and the concept of the Khazneh as a manifest vision—a magical, imaginative creation with the intoxicating spiritual power to haunt. Remaining is a mode of vision that seems more tentative, more aware of its limitations and its failures. Age “can only be guessed at,” and even the structure itself is a “matter of controversy.” The visitor may search in vain, and will still find no traces of a name, no threads of a story. A grander narrative becomes impossible, since, as the 1875 edition notes six pages later, only carved rocks, eroded by time, are left: This is all that remains of the city of Petra. It is strange that the most enduring and beautiful remnants are the tombs. But many of the rockhewn tombs have likewise disappeared. The close observer will see how time has eaten away, and is still eating away, the cliffs themselves. Fragments of stucco ornaments, shallow recesses, and little niches, are seen on the face of many a rock, which . . . is so soft that in many places a finger will bring down handfuls of sand.40 A few years after producing El Khasné, Petra, Church undertook his last large-scale canvas. The Aegean Sea reinstates a plurality of details, but primarily by reusing parts and gestures from his own works (fig. 79). Ruins similar to those in his earlier painting The Parthenon (1871, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) as well as his later Moonrise in Greece (1889, Santa Barbara Museum of Art) appear at the right. The façade of one of the tombs at Petra is included at the lower left, a gesture to his El Khasné, Petra: the painting as detail becomes a detail within a painting. This self-reflexive form of pastiche pushes the detail into the realm of imitation, but also into the realm of memory.41 Through this work the artist “remembers” himself,


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combining pieces from his oeuvre, holding them together with a sky laden with clouds and a double rainbow painted, Turner-like, with thick whites and yellows. Yet the rose-colored monument at the left is not the Khazneh but another tomb, one whose face is entirely visible, although the particularities are withheld. The Aegean Sea is decidedly not a “detailed” painting. What detail instead means here is a piece that references something else, something outside the picture plane: his travels, his other canvases, his memories, as if beautiful remnants were all that he could offer.

pa i nti n g and poetry Contemporaneous with Church’s El Khasné, Petra of 1874 is Herman Melville’s Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, a four-part poem of 150 cantos and more than eighteen thousand lines, published in 1876. The manifest correspondence between the two works of art is their interest in Petra, which is the subject of one of Melville’s cantos. But both the painting and the poem also speak to their historical moment in surprising ways, reflecting on the form, and the significance or insignificance, of art in an era of spiritual doubt. Both artists undertook their works during periods of increasing criticism. Melville conceived of Clarel during an 1856 tour of the Holy Land, which he took following the disastrous critical reception of Moby Dick and the complete failure of Pierre; or,The Ambiguities. He stopped writing and fell into a deep depression. Worried, his family encouraged him to travel to the Middle East.42 Clarel concerns the pilgrimage of the poem’s namesake, a young, naïve American boy, to the Palestinian ruins. As Walter E. Bezanson argues, Melville used “a curious mingling of modern and archaic idiom” to provide “an intricate documentation of a major crisis in Western civilization—the apparent smash-up of revealed religion in the age of Darwin.”43 A loss of faith underlies the poem and shapes, according to Bezanson, its fundamental dilemma: “how to endure the overwhelming sense of a shattered vision.”44 But Clarel seems less a response to or a reflection of a “shattered vision,” which implies an annihilating disintegration, than a shift away from a narrative of transcendence to a mode of representation that is more embodied and fundamentally more confrontational. Although Melville more consciously controls this, both Clarel and El Khasné seem to be working through the question of how to give form to those “handfuls of sand.” In Melville’s canto “Of Petra,” the ancient metropolis is described in the first line as “the City Red in cloud-land”45 and the colors with which Church was so obsessed are given several lines: from purple gloom Of cliffs—whose tops the suns illume Where oleanders wave the flag— Winds out upon the rosy stain,

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Warm color of the natural vein, Of porch and pediment in crag.46 When looking at the “sculptured” door, presumably of a monument like the Khazneh or perhaps the Khazneh itself, the protagonist wonders at its beauty: Mid such a scene Of Nature’s terror, how serene That ordered form. Nor less ’tis cut Out of that terror—does abut Thereon: there’s Art.47 Can art—“that ordered form”—be “cut out” of “Nature’s terror”? Or does it exist separately as something “serene” and “ordered”? If art is cut from something larger, then it is by its very nature a kind of detail, aspiring to wholeness, to order, but always gesturing toward a world that it cannot contain. What makes El Khasné, Petra so interesting is that it references this mode of art making through its very form— the canvas is the detail. The detail might be, according to Didi-Huberman, “invested with an ideal of knowledge and totality,” but it will always retain the traces of that “cutting out” undertaken by the artist or that “cutting up” enacted by the viewer.48 In Melville’s poem, the monument’s portal provides a curious pull, as if to both tempt and unnerve the viewer with the unseen. “On the level of detail,” Gaston Bachelard writes, “Reality somehow loses its solidity, its constancy, its substance.”49 Looking at detail, the realism of representation becomes less convincing, widening the gap between paint and what it is meant to signify. While the earlier paintings work to negate that gap, El Khasné, Petra seems to embrace it, highlighting the ontological difference between those dark, painterly rocks and the surface of the temple. The painting adopts this tension as part of its compositional structure. The detail is, by definition, incomplete and always points away from itself; the painting as the detail thus points to something we cannot see. But El Khasné, Petra also attempts to compensate for such a lack of visibility. Elements of art and nature within the picture are doubled, as if to try to regain some sense of “solidity” and “constancy.” The columned doorway is doubled by the natural opening between the cliffs. The temple’s door is darkened in the same tone as these outer cliffs, further connecting raw and sculpted stone. Melville also doubles his passageway in “On Petra.” The narrator asks, “Is that . . . The portal of the Prince o’ the Air?/Thence will the god emerge, and speak?”50 Although asked with a mocking tone, as if this were a theatrical production and any “god” (lowercased) would do if he made an acceptable entrance, several lines later the narrator admits genuine interest. While blind faith may be impossible, the attraction of mystery endures: “That portal lures me.”51


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What was at stake at this point in the nineteenth century was not whether to believe in anything, but how to make belief—as art—possible. The true power of “Nature’s terror” lay in its threats to coherence. The question for Melville in Clarel then becomes: how could art, as form, be cut out from its apparent antithesis? Church does not confront this question as directly as Melville, who flirts with faith as well as satire. But both work on a threshold, straddling faith and loss, detail and whole. If there is “terror,” it lies in the possibility that art might not be capable of producing order or communicating meaning. In his poem “America,” from Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), Melville writes, “The terror of the vision there—/ A silent vision unavowed, / Revealing earth’s foundation bare.”52 “Terror” is visualized as an absence, as “bare” earth, a loss of that “foundation” upon which the nation was built and which binds it together. Church’s El Khasné, Petra can be seen as a confrontation between a visual language that will no longer bear the weight of its intention and the doubts that undermine a harmonizing rhetoric.

f i g u r e 80 Frederic Edwin Church, A View in Cuernavaca, Mexico, c. 1898–1900. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 9 ¼ × 12 ¼ in. (23.5 × 31.1 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Gift from the estate of Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner, 1936.448.

e nd i ng s The confrontational strength of El Khasné, Petra can be juxtaposed against Church’s last-known oil painting, A View in Cuernavaca, Mexico (fig. 80).53 The arch of a stone aqueduct frames the composition. Rounded mountains and a warm sky compose the background. The vantage point from the foreground, on the dry soil next to some leafy vines, is clear. The visual recession from this point, through the arch, past the vertical ruin and into the hazy beyond, can be easily mapped. The pastoral view, formulaic structure, and diffuse rosy glow make the canvas, at least initially, almost disappointingly sentimental. David Huntington calls it “small and rather

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fi g u r e 81 Frederic Edwin Church, Arch from an Aqueduct, Cuernavaca, February 1898. Graphite on buff paper, 4 ⅜ × 7 in. (11.1 × 17.8 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1980.1609F.

pathetic.”54 Here is everything, it seems, that Church struggled with and against in El Khasné, Petra. Here is Church, in his last painting, returning to an older language. Yet the painting can be read against itself. It may attempt a conventional formula, but the pictorial details do not fit into place. There are two small, dark portals: at the base of the arch at the lower left and on the side of the stone edifice just past the arch. One appears to be the opening of a fireplace, the other a window, though the painting provides no clear sense of either their literal or metaphoric function. Ensconced in shadow, these openings cannot be seen into or through. A more expansive view is also blocked by the stone arch and ruin, while a gentle recession toward the prospect on the right and into the vista beyond is interrupted by the precipitous drop of the ground and the disappearance of the brief “path.” This path (if it can even be called that) in A View in Cuernavaca is nothing like the trail in The Heart of the Andes which, while ending in dense underbrush, still takes the viewer from the bottom edge of the canvas to the pilgrims worshiping at a cross. Split in half on a vertical axis, Church’s late painting offers the viewer a choice. The prospect and the view appear to the right of the crumbling stone structure, while the sunlight comes from the left side. To the right, the eye moves away from confinement toward the sky and distant mountains; to the left is the reflection of the sun on the ruin, although the sun itself remains hidden. Light illuminates the exposed plaster here, a thicker application of white and yellow pigment that has a startling physicality, creating a tension between two types of sunlight—and two modes of representation—in the painting. The light to the left points back to its own painted materiality, while the light to the right is all warm ethereal illumination, a Claudian glow drawing the eye away from those portals that refuse interpretation. Church’s final canvas appears to stage a failed return to the past. It is as if the artist wants to reuse an old formula, to regain the bravado that a painting like The Andes of Ecuador exudes through its translation of light into faith. But A View in


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Cuernavaca ends up presenting, unintentionally, a more unsettled and ambivalent “view” than any previous canvas. The aqueduct’s graceful curve controls the picture, like one of Joseph Wright of Derby’s grottoes, enclosing it with the reassuring heft of architecture.Yet the arch is also a barrier, a visual impediment as well as a consolidating and harmonizing frame. In a sketch of the site from 1898, the sky above and the upper limit of the aqueduct can still be seen (fig. 81). The painting does not include them. The mountain landscape in the background of A View in Cuernavaca, so insubstantial and distant, suggests Church’s nostalgia for an earlier model of landscape painting, but this last work is surprisingly powerful precisely because of the unexpected disruption of that vision. Church owned a photograph by Eadweard Muybridge entitled Watchtower, Panama that presents a compelling comparison to A View in Cuernavaca, Mexico (fig. 82).55 Muybridge’s photograph is a stark image, with an abandoned structure rising from the center of the composition. Scrubby tangles of dead brush surround this building and gnarled, leafless trees grow from the top. Although this is a scene from a foreign country, it evokes the disturbing absence that Melville discusses in “America”: “The terror of the vision there . . . Revealing earth’s foundation bare.” Muybridge’s image is certainly an intentionally bleaker work than A View in Cuernavaca, but the two share strange dark portals, those square and arched openings repeated in each. Muybridge’s tower, a structure not unlike Church’s vertical ruin beyond the curved aqueduct, has cube-shaped windows in the lower stories as well as tall openings, rounded at the top, that line the structure’s apex. Like Church’s main arch, we can see a bit of sky through these high, glassless fenestrations. But the rest remains in shadow. The panoptic watchtower suggests unobstructed vision, but instead, like El Khasné and A View in Cuernavaca, the picture restricts the viewer’s own sight.

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f i g u r e 82 Eadweard Muybridge, Watchtower, Panama, 1875. Albumen print, 5 ½ × 9 ½ in. (14 × 24.1 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.398.2.


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chapter 7

Horizon Lines in ola na’s sittin g room hangs the one large-scale, finished canvas that the painter kept for display in his home: El Khasné, Petra (see fig. 72). Church had presented it to his wife as a gift.1 He installed it over the fireplace in the family’s favorite room and also designed the room’s color scheme to echo and complement the painting (fig. 83).2 Like the chromolithographs of Niagara displayed in so many parlors, El Khasné, Petra appears at once more personal and less powerful in the sitting room of the Churches’ home (fig. 84). The picture’s placement works to domesticate its disruptive effect. With the painting’s color and the frame’s geometry referenced throughout the room, the bold, confrontational effect of the work is dispersed across the interior space, as if providing the eye with places of refuge beyond the Siq’s unsettling path. The installation also aestheticizes Petra the place, which had caused Church such anxiety, and had even threatened death. He faced two questions while sketching there. Would he be able to represent this strange place on canvas? And would he even be able to put pencil to paper, without encountering resistance or physical harm? It is as if Church wants to turn a painting that is undoubtedly strange and confrontational into an example of the kind of art that Henry James had described— a work better left to its “tranquil destiny,” that was “honorable and comfortable,” that was finally “a very pretty picture.”3 But El Khasné is not anything like the late tropical pictures that led James to write these words; the novelist was looking at paintings including Valley of the Santa Ysabel, which is characterized by a nostalgic, dream-like quality, a tangle of plant life visible but pushed to the right edge (fig. 85). To install the scene of Petra in his home, above the hearth, blunts its power. We may see the formal structure of a threat, as Church did in Petra and as critics did in looking at the painting when it was first exhibited, but in the parlor such danger is reimagined as a comfortable uncertainty, even a triumph. The painting is cut up, physically dispersed across the space so that it registers as one detail of the room, as well as one part of a wider network of objects, views, and architectural elements. El Khasné both comes into being and comes apart before our eyes. Outside, through a large arched window opposite the painting, is the actual landscape that Church simultaneously designed. According to Gerald Carr, the name “Olana” is derived from the Greco-Roman geographer Strabo, who identified Olane (later spelled with two a’s) as a fortress and “treasure-storehouse” near Artaxata, the ancient Persian capital in the Ararat Valley, established during the same period

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fi g u r e 83 Frederic Edwin Church, Color Swatch for Some of the Principal Rooms of the First Story, Olana, c. 1872–74. Oil and graphite on paper, 13 ⅞ × 10 ⅞ in. (35.2 × 27.6 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1982.759.

as Petra. Hanging in a home also named after a treasure-house, El Khasné, Petra, Carr states, “became a synonym for Olana.” 4 If El Khasné, Petra marks an endpoint in Church’s career, Olana begins a new chapter—a turn to the physical environment. Although he continued painting, Church spent less time in his Manhattan studio. His focus became Olana. The landscape painter became a landscape architect. For decades, his letters are filled with news of his work on the property. “I have 9631201 problems in Architecture and construction given [to] me to solve daily,” Church told fellow artist Martin Johnson Heade.5 “I am busy Landscape

fi g u r e 84 Kurt Dolnier, Sitting Room, with “El Khasné, Petra” over the Fireplace, 1977. Photograph © Property of Kurt Dolnier, Image courtesy The Olana Partnership. fi g u r e 85 Frederic Edwin Church, Valley of the Santa Ysabel, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 55 ¼ × 76 ¼ in. (140.3 × 193.7 cm). Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


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Architecturing,” he wrote to his close friend and eventual biographer, Charles Dudley Warner. “I have nearly completed a cliff about a hundred feet high.” 6 The term “landscape architecture” (as opposed to “landscape gardening”) had been coined by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863 and served as an indicator of the professional nature of the practice by mid-century.7 Church’s use undoubtedly signals his serious intentions in making Olana. “I have made about 1 ¾ miles of road this season,” he wrote to Erastus Dow Palmer, “opening entirely new and beautiful views—I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.”8 What constitutes such “more and better landscapes”? If in El Khasné, Petra and A View from Cuernavaca, Mexico (see fig. 80) Church restricts vision, with Olana he works, once again, expansively.

e y e and body In 1870, shortly after returning from the Middle East, Church began work on his estate in the Hudson River Valley. Thomas Cole had first introduced his pupil to the area, and Church began buying property there in 1860, twelve years after Cole’s death. Over the next decade, he accumulated more land directly across the river from his teacher’s modest residence. Cole’s son Theodore assumed the responsibility of managing the estate. Throughout the 1870s and ’80s, Church’s house and 250 acres of grounds took shape.9 After briefly collaborating with Richard Morris Hunt, Church chose Calvert Vaux, who had designed New York’s Central Park with Frederick Law Olmsted, as his “consulting architect.”10 But the artist assumed the primary role, producing over five hundred drawings and two hundred designs for stencils in the process (figs. 86, 87). In 1871, he described his working methods to a fellow artist: “A Feudal Castle which I am building—under the modest name of

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f i g u r e 86 Frederic Edwin Church, Southwest Façade, Olana, c. 1870. Watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper, 13 × 21 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ in. (33 × 55.7 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1980.40. f i g u r e 87 Frederic Edwin Church, Sketches for Stencil Borders, Olana, c. 1872–74. Graphite on paper, 8 ⅝ × 6 ⅞ in. (21.9 × 17.5 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1982.816.


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fi g u r e 88 Frederic Joseph Church, Plan of Olana, 1886. Ink and watercolor on paper, 22 ⅛ × 36 ¼ in. (56.2 × 92.1 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1984.39.

dwelling house—absorbs all my time and attention. I am obliged to watch it so closely—for having undertaken to get my architecture from Persia where I have never been—nor any of my friends either—I am obliged to imagine Persian architecture—then embody it on paper.”11 The estate is created through a pastiche of forms and styles. The landscape is designed using the eighteenth-century vocabulary of the picturesque. A plan created in 1886 by his son, Frederic Joseph Church, then a college student, depicts Olana’s central features, including the patterned planting of trees the artist undertook (fig. 88). A serpentine course of carriage roads weaves its way in and out of the woods, past a lake, gaining and losing elevation until reaching the top of the hill where a full view of the house is suddenly revealed. The house is both a Persian fortress and an Italian villa, with polychromatic bands and design elements borrowed from the Gothic Revival, French Second Empire, and East Indian styles (fig. 89).12 Inside, objects from his far-flung travels fill the space (fig. 90). “When I was there I wanted to touch everything,” writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak recalled about his visit to Olana, “the tiles, the walls—to feel the full sensuousness of his creation.”13 Church developed Olana’s landscape with the same ardor and exactitude that he brought to his great mid-century canvases. Samuel F. B. Morse—painter, founder of the National Academy of Design, inventor of the telegraph—had stated in 1826 that “Landscape Gardening” was one of the five “perfect fine arts,” joining


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poetry, painting, sculpture, and music. Although it was a nascent art form in the United States, Morse described the landscape gardener as one who should “possess the mind of the Landscape Painter, but he paints with the objects themselves.”14 With Olana, Church moved from paint to “objects.” Trees were planted not only to form and shape pathways and scenery, but to be individual objects for contemplation. The distant mountains provided the background. After their return from Jamaica, where the artist had sketched the abundance of ferns (see fig. 61) while his wife collected them, they established a fern garden at the north of the house. An orchard and a working farm provided revenue and took up half of the acreage. Church converted what was once swampland fed by springs into a ten-acre lake, the largest feature of the property, and a kitchen garden with vegetables and flowers occupied a piece of land nearby.15 Roads wind through the landscape, providing views of the house, the Hudson River Valley, and the Catskill and Berkshire Mountains. The artist used windows, entryways, and architectural features to frame his new landscapes (fig. 91). Arguably the most important feature of the picturesque landscape is its roads; they allow for this movement in and through the land.16 Five and one-half miles of roads traverse Olana’s terrain, directing the spectator both physically and visually. There were two main “ceremonial entrance roads,” to use James Ryan’s term, as well as several pleasure roads and additional farm roads. The ceremonial drive provides the first impression of the estate; one enters the grounds using one of these roads, moving toward the house on its broad curves, in and out of thick woods, through meadows, and past the lake. Church designed rustic benches made of mountain laurel branches from which to contemplate the vistas.17 A manicured lawn, directly to the east of the house, is the final element in the journey from the

f i g u r e 90 Robert and Emily de Forest, Court Hall and Stair Hall, Olana, 1884. Photograph, 6 ⅜ × 8 ½ in. (16.2 × 21.6 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1986.378.28.A.

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f i g u r e 89 Nicholas Whitman, South Façade of Olana, 2001, photograph,

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fi g u r e 91 Nicholas Whitman, View South through the Bell Tower at Olana, 1993, photograph,

entrance at the bottom of the hill to the house at the top. The roads, therefore, take the visitor through a series of different landscapes, exposing various textures, contrasts, and colors. The first main drive, the South Road, was actually laid out in the early 1860s, shortly after Church had purchased the majority of his land, but years before the house would be built on the summit. The Churches, in the meantime, lived in a smaller house that they named “Cosy Cottage” and which had been designed for them by Richard Morris Hunt. In 1864, Church built a large wood-frame studio nearby.18 In 1868, a second approach route was added, the North Road, which wound around the upper portion of the lake and passed by the studio after a steep ascent. The three pleasure drives—the Pond Road, the Crown Hill Road, and the Ridge Road—were all created in 1884. These roads are considerably more circuitous, weaving through dense woods, open meadows, and along cliffs at the western edge of the property. A writer for the Christian Intelligencer marveled at the “immense” “expenditure in road-building” that the artist had undertaken to bring “this huge, wild, steep mass of earth into suitable shape and condition.”19 Each day, the Churches took carriage rides along these scenic roads shaped from the “wild, steep mass of earth.” Each day, Church traveled through his own landscape. It was during the construction of these pleasure drives that Church told his old friend Palmer that he could, in this way, “make more and better landscapes.” Olana’s roads produce a series of narratives. The entrance drives prepare the viewer for what lies ahead: the serpentine curves allow for glimpses of the house but withhold a clear view (fig. 92). The lake presents a more expansive vista, as if it were an interlude. The roads continue to climb past rougher terrain until reaching the lawns near the top of the hill and then, as the climax, the house itself. John Conron argues that such entrance roads through the picturesque landscape


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provide a cinematic experience. “Like cameras tracking, viewers moving along [the roads] experience space as a succession of scenes that ‘constantly change.’ The scenery takes on the elusive character of montage, which connects even apparently discontinuous (varying, contrastive) elements by means of repetition.”20 A narrative is created through a montage of seemingly disparate details, chosen to provide contrast and variation, and for their ability to surprise and delight the visitor. The landscape becomes a source of visual pleasure and entertainment. Olana’s lake is nature’s mirror and microscope, reflecting and magnifying the surrounding landscape and those who walk in it. David Huntington likens it to “a stepping stone cut to the size of a geological landscape: it helps the eye to measure distances and heights.” 21 Henry David Thoreau describes the lake and woods in Walden as offering a metaphorical means of measurement. “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next [to] the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows.”22 The lake provides a means to measure the landscape and the self. It is another eye, both something to be seen and, through its reflective surface, to see other views again and differently. This is the ultimate function of Church’s picturesque landscape: to create an environment that is, in its essence, about the precision of observation. The natural features are not exotic— the artist most often selected native species23—but they are presented in such a way as to make the viewer see what might otherwise have been overlooked.

f i g u r e 92 Granville Hills, House and Park from across the Lake, Olana, c. 1890–1903. Albumen print, 4 ¼ × 7 ¹⁄₁₆ in. (10.8 × 17.9 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1986.378.11.D.

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Such a three-dimensional landscape requires active participation. As the visitor moves through Olana’s grounds and vistas, new details come in and out of focus, attracting and distracting the attention. Olana is not “picturesque” in the sense of “picture-like,” the most basic meaning of the term. There is no singular point of view or fixed structure. Rather, the picturesque allows for multiple narratives and for narrative complications. As Martin Price states, the picturesque is “based upon the overthrow of limited ideas of unity” and marked by a “complex and difficult harmony.”24 The aesthetic offers new possibilities for representation. “We move away from the stress upon pictorial composition to the experience of complexity in particular objects.The recourse to the criterion of the painter’s composition becomes, in the end, an appeal to art against art—or, more precisely, an appeal to unlimited complexity against limited canons of beauty.”25 If we consider the picturesque in this way—not merely as an adjective, but as an aesthetic of “unlimited complexity” and, as Uvedale Price wrote in 1792, one that “excites and nourishes curiosity”—Olana comes into greater relief. Church’s landscape becomes “an appeal to art against art” in a double sense: a “move away” from paint on canvas as well as from “pictorial composition.” The picturesque, John Conron argues, is “the first American aesthetic.” This does not mean, as Conron is careful to point out, that the picturesque is somehow a “national possession,” but rather that the aesthetic was widely adopted in the United States during the nineteenth century by gaining appeal across traditional geographical and social boundaries and by emphasizing eclecticism.26 Andrew Jackson Downing, the most prominent American landscape gardener in the first half of the century, discussed the term in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America (1841), a book so popular it was republished in numerous editions. Picturesque design, according to Downing, included “outlines of a certain spirited irregularity; surfaces, comparatively abrupt and broken; and growth of a somewhat wild and bold character . . . intricacy and variety—thickets—glades—and underwood—as in wild nature, are indispensible. Walks and roads are more abrupt in their windings, turning off frequently at sudden angles. . . . Rocks and trees seem to struggle with the elements for a foothold.” Downing praised the Hudson Valley as particularly “advanced” in the practice.27 A decade later, Samuel F. B. Morse, who had declared landscape gardening to be a fine art in 1826, created Locust Grove, his estate on the Hudson, as an expression of the picturesque aesthetic. Enormously popular gift books such as The Home Book of the Picturesque (1852) and Picturesque America (1872–74), lengthy and lavishly illustrated literary and pictorial meditations on the American landscape, appeared during the height of interest in the aesthetic. This was also when Vaux—Church’s “consulting architect”—and Olmsted designed Central Park, the most important picturesque landscape in the United States, which opened to the public in 1859. In 1871, Vaux and Olmsted, both friends of the artist, nominated him to serve on the Central Park Commission,


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which oversaw the park. Olmsted wanted to make sure that “the public utility of devotion to art and the study of Nature . . . should be recognized” and the landscape painter seemed to embody such principles.28 By the 1870s, when Church was designing Olana and serving on the park commission, the picturesque had become firmly rooted in the national consciousness. Although the artist seems never to have used the term to describe his estate in his letters—the primary source for his thoughts in writing—Olana is clearly created using this aesthetic model. Church’s landscape was most often described, during the nineteenth century as well as in more recent discussions, as achieving a picturesque effect.29 In an article for Progressive Architecture, written in 1965 amidst intense efforts to preserve and protect Olana, Vincent Scully called it “a splendid painter’s essay” in which the grounds were “shaped, cut, planted, and pathed according to the most elaborate principles of picturesque design.” Scully goes on to compare Church to the Abstract Expressionists, not based on formal qualities, but because Church also seemed “unsatisfied, determined to get hold of everything at once. . . . His canvasses got bigger, like those of the mighty New York School of the 1950’s as if, like them, he wanted his gesture to encompass everything out there beyond his hand. He was driven on, but he was forced to come to rest at Olana at last. . . . It was his last and most enduring work, the ultimate justification for his art.”30 With Olana, as with his canvases, Church was attempting to pull all the details together, to not only “encompass everything,” but to represent “everything at once.” Olana may be less public than his mid-century canvases, but it is sprawling and more ambitious, at once a defense of his body of work and a release from its waning legacy. And the public did in fact remain interested, as the article from the Christian Intelligencer, which had remarked on the cost of Church’s roads, makes unsettlingly clear. Strangers are warned by a placard to turn aside at a point near by,—a caution which is rendered necessary by frequent intrusions. Mr. Church’s experience has been similar to Lord Tennyson’s, who abandoned one of his residences on account of the impertinence of the public . . . It is hardly to be wondered that both the poet and the painter have been forced into an attitude of resistance, and that the whole establishment is obliged to keep itself in a certain state of siege.31 Having created Olana, Church is then “forced into an attitude of resistance” to defend this very creation. “Nowhere else, amid our nineteenth-century architectural remains,” wrote James Thrall Soby in 1948, “do the American painter and nature stand so aggressively together.”32

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Olana was designed with a viewer, or more precisely a visitor, in mind. The landscape proposes a framework through which to experience it physically as well as visually as if this were a public work of art like Central Park. Church constantly hosted friends and colleagues at his home, and it appears that local residents and tourists were also allowed onto the grounds at times.33 But during his life, Olana was fundamentally a private place, concealed from prying eyes while offering sweeping vistas for those privileged enough to have been invited up the winding road to the top of the hill. Paradoxically, Church turned away from the “impertinent” public to create his most participatory work of art. Both the definitions of landscape art and the viewer of such art are reconceived at Olana. Church’s desire to “get hold of everything at once” and to “encompass everything out there beyond his hand” echoes the artist’s own declaration: “I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint.”34 The remark is both aggressive and defensive. Church’s comment recalls Mark Twain’s response to The Heart of the Andes: “so much.” For Twain, each viewing resulted in “a new picture—totally new.” But of course this mode of vision has a cost. “So much” becomes too much; after “gasping and straining” Twain must finally concede that looking has become “so painful” that he must leave the painting behind. And yet every detail remains in his mind.35 With The Heart of the Andes, seeing “so much” necessitates an antithetical physical response: “to go away from the thing.”36 But with Olana, Church creates for both the eye and the body. Making “more and better landscapes” means translating observation into a bodily practice. The picturesque becomes a pedagogical framework: moving those (invited) visitors through space in order to teach them how to see. The eye, the mind, and the body hold equal importance, each engaging in potentially contradictory ways with the physical world. A painting like The Heart of the Andes works to make the spectator forget space and time, to see, and only see. An optical imperialism results, whereby all the other senses are overpowered by the desire, the need, to look there. By working with the physical landscape, Church relinquishes such hierarchies, as well as a viewing public. So often criticized for sacrificing the ideal for the real, with Olana Church aggressively works with the literal. He does not represent a landscape; he makes one. The visitor does not just see into the landscape; he stands in it and moves through it. Church, under “a certain state of siege,” had undertaken to bring “this huge, wild, steep mass of earth into suitable shape and condition,” if only for a few.37

a w i ld mass of earth Writing about a different nineteenth-century “mass of earth”—New York’s Central Park—Robert Smithson addressed the concept of the picturesque in a 1973 Artforum article, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape.” Beginning


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with Uvedale Price, Smithson describes the attempt “to free landscaping from the ‘picture’ gardens of Italy into a more physical sense of the temporal landscape.” The picturesque addresses “chance and change in the material order of nature” and therefore “depart[s] from a static formalistic view.” Such landscapes, in these terms, are “never finished; they remain carriers of the unexpected and of contradiction.” Price and Olmsted become for Smithson “forerunners of a dialectical materialism”: art not as bound to a purity of form and bracketed off from history but as a product of complex physical and temporal relationships, marked by chance and contradiction.38 This is, in other words, a direct assault on art critic Clement Greenberg’s Kantian modernism. Using Olmsted’s Central Park, completed in 1859, and Price’s concept of the picturesque, Smithson proposes a model particularly relevant to Olana. He sees Olmsted as “America’s first ‘earthwork artist,’ ” an “artist who contended with such magnitudes [and who] sets an example which throws a whole new light on the nature of American art.”39 Olmsted had built something; “he moved ten million horse-cart loads of earth to put that together,” Smithson remarked about the creation of Central Park, with clear admiration.40 Turning to the physical landscape allowed for contradictions that Church had both struggled with and attempted to reconcile in his earlier canvases. For a painter whose details seemed to be constantly exceeding what a single canvas could communicate and whose greatest pictures were looked at through opera glasses in crowded rooms, the picturesque was, above all, a liberating language. Working with the natural world allowed for a “constant new creation”—to return to Thoreau’s words about Darwin—one guided by questions of volume, scale, and change.41 But the process of creating Olana also had a distinctly ecological dimension: nature is not just the nonhuman world, or a synonym for the divine, but is reconceived as a living system. In Church’s library is the book that most profoundly examined this idea and its implications: George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, published in 1864. The book was groundbreaking and is considered by scholars to be one of the first texts of modern environmentalism. “Few books have had more impact on the way men view and use land,” writes Marsh biographer David Lowenthal. “Appearing at the peak of American confidence in the inexhaustibility of resources, it was the first book to controvert the myth of superabundance and to spell out the need for reform.”42 Marsh’s book was an immediate success, and quickly gained international repute.43 Marsh’s words, the philosophical and the practical, are reflected in Olana’s landscape. Marsh communicates three key points that are particularly relevant to Olana: the “necessity of restoring the disturbed harmonies of nature,” reforestation as a critical aspect of this restoration, and the importance of the “labor of observation” in understanding nature and humanity’s effect upon it. “Sight is a faculty;

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seeing, an art,” wrote Marsh.44 His first point, arguing for the restoration of “the disturbed harmonies of nature,” was the most revolutionary, although it has since become almost common sense. Marsh essentially claimed that nature did not control man, nor did the two exist as part of an inherently symbiotic system. Rather, man exercised extensive power over nature, and could therefore destroy or protect it. Marsh’s book had in fact originally been titled: Man the Disturber of Nature’s Harmonies.45 In one of the most provocative sentences of the book, Marsh compares nature to a house that man is slowly destroying. “But we are, even now, breaking up the floor and wainscoting and doors and window frames of our dwelling, for fuel to warm our bodies and seethe our pottage, and the world cannot afford to wait till the slow and sure progress of exact science has taught it a better economy.” 46 Like Church, Marsh traveled widely, spending years as a diplomat in Turkey and Italy, examining the landscapes of Europe and the Middle East. There he witnessed the catastrophic effects of deforestation: dangerous erosion, soil desiccation, uncontrolled rivers and flooding, wider temperature fluctuations, and an impoverished ecosystem.47 Both Marsh and Church were also New Englanders who saw first-hand the ravages of the axe that had entirely altered the landscape of the northeastern United States, the damage that Cole lamented in almost every landscape he painted. But, unlike Cole, Marsh did not imply that simply leaving the land after it had been clear-cut and farmed or industrialized to the point of nonproductivity would restore its former “virginal” state. There would be no inevitable cycle back to wilderness in the real “course of empire.” Marsh analogizes humanity’s relationship to nature as warfare, the same analogy that Darwin uses. But while Darwin describes the war of nature, Marsh depicts a war with nature. Darwin’s war is one that “we do not see, or we forget”: “The birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey.” While Marsh unblinkingly portrays the decimation of the forests caused by humans, Darwin describes a struggle between trees themselves. What a struggle between the several kinds of trees must here have gone on during long centuries, each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect and insect—between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey— all striving to increase, and all feeding on each other or on the trees or their seeds and seedlings, or on the other plants which first clothed the ground and thus checked the growth of trees!48


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Marsh, however, describes a war that humans perpetrate, intentionally or unintentionally, upon nature’s own self-sustaining—if brutal—system. Man conducts an “almost indiscriminate warfare upon all the forms of animal and vegetable existence around him.”49 In Darwin’s war, death is a necessary fact of life. Even extinction could aid in the propagation of other species. In Marsh’s war, death has no positive connotations; it is a bluntly final term. Darwin’s and Marsh’s books, published just six years apart, offer two different but intertwined accounts of man and nature. “Thus, from the war of nature,” writes Darwin in his final paragraph, “from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”50 But, Marsh warned, the advance of those “higher animals”—namely, man—threatened to leave the earth a “shattered surface.” 51 The land that would become Olana had been substantially clear-cut when Church purchased it. Most of the acreage had been used for farming.52 The trees that now line the lake and the roads and which occupy vast sections of the estate were Church’s additions. “For several seasons after I selected this spot as my home,” Church wrote to a friend, “I thought of hardly anything but planting trees, and had thousands and thousands of them set out on the southern and northern slopes.”53 He began planting trees in 1860, just after his purchase of the first portion of the property, and over the years carefully mixed coniferous and deciduous varieties, an ongoing process that continued for forty years until his death. Church’s trees, like Olana as a whole, are usually seen in purely aesthetic terms. “Specimen trees” such as American elms were planted as individual objects of contemplation, serving as transitions between more densely planted areas to open meadows.54 Church planted trees to provide visual contrast and to construct his picturesque grounds. David Huntington notes that they were chosen for their “peculiar expressiveness.”55 Olana becomes the artist’s “three-dimensional canvas” where Church creates “his last great work of art,” in the words of Gerald Carr.56 While it is undoubtedly true that Church chose his trees carefully and considered them as part of an aesthetic composition, they also reforested the landscape. Here was an opportunity for two acts: an act of creation and an act of preservation. The trees do not, in other words, just represent something; they do something. American elms, sugar maples, sumacs, hemlocks, spruce, field cedars, red and white oaks, pines, and birches are combined to form a healthy, diverse forest.57 This is exactly what Marsh prescribes.58 The multitude of species, intermixed as they are, in their spontaneous growth, gives the American forest landscape a variety of aspect not often seen in the woods of Europe, and the gorgeous tints, which nature repeats from the dying dolphin to paint the falling leaf of the American maples, oaks, and ash trees, clothe the

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hillsides and fringe the watercourses with a rainbow splendor of foliage, unsurpassed by the brightest groupings of the tropical flora.59 Church shifts from painting tropical flora to planting American maples. Perhaps he was looking back at his own sketches of individual trees from his South American voyages while he chose the species that would populate his new landscape (fig. 93). Marsh’s aim of “restoring the disturbed harmonies of nature,” an aim declaratively indebted to the “labors of Humboldt,” undoubtedly appealed to Church.60 Marsh also frames his argument in terms of responsibility; people should protect and preserve nature for future generations and heed “the command of religion.”61 God gave man the earth to be its steward, not its destroyer, Marsh reminded his reader. As they built Olana, Frederic and Isabel Church also rebuilt their family. They had four more children between 1866 and 1871; there were now additional reasons for the artist to create a landscape that would endure. Like his trees, Church’s lake can be understood as part of the developing ecology of Olana. Even before he had bought the first piece of property in 1860, Church was intent on “see[ing] about getting out muck,” as Theodore Cole phrased it in his diary while looking over the property at the artist’s request just before the purchase.62 Excavation of the ten-acre wetland area to create the lake began right

fi g u r e 93 Frederic Edwin Church, Sketch of Trees for “The Heart of the Andes,” 1858. Graphite and gouache on tan paper, 14 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 18 in. (36.4 × 45.7 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1977.135 recto.


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away and spanned two decades. The project became intimately tied to the planting of young saplings. “My muck seems wonderfully adapted to trees,” the artist proudly told his father, “and I give them liberal doses of it.”63 Church’s “muck” became essential to the reforestation project and also revitalized the existing shallow and impoverished topsoil, crucial in stemming any erosion—all key tenets of Marsh’s restorative philosophy. The muck was spread over the fields in the park and seeded with hay, which was then harvested as an agricultural crop.64 Church became protective of it, specifying in 1865 in a letter written from Jamaica that a neighbor who wanted to “secure more of that muck” should be careful “not [to] carry off for his own use the top layer of muck—the black part—and leave me the lower. He should make a[n] equal division.” 65 The excavation continued until 1879, requiring a removal of an estimated forty thousand cubic yards of the swampy stuff, all by hand.66 Church wrote to Palmer about both building his roads and excavating his lake, exclaiming (hyperbolically) that “5,000,000 loads” had been necessary.67 By 1885, he described the lake to his friend as “a fine sheet of water, as clear as crystal.” Although it now provoked a new engineering issue, having overflowed and washed out the roads. “I must build a capacious sluiceway,” the artist concluded.68 Building, digging, moving, planting—these are the actions that generate Olana and the terms of creation applied to it.69 They are also the forces behind the reforestation of the land there. Such an undertaking provides an unstudied link between the artist and his close friend Frederick Billings (1823–1890), who had bought George Perkins Marsh’s homestead in 1869. Billings was a New Englander who became a wealthy lawyer, railroad magnate, and in the 1860s a budding conservationist who had advocated for the establishment of national parks in the West. He returned from California to his native Vermont, buying Marsh’s childhood home and surrounding land in Woodstock to create a 270-acre farm, along with a forest and landscaped estate. Like Church, Billings simultaneously developed a network of carriage roads and trails with carefully constructed views. Billings—and again, I would argue, like Church—saw his acreage as a working landscape in which planting trees (Billings would plant ten thousand) and forest stewardship were critical. New England forests, as Marsh had lamented, were particularly devastated by logging and clear-cutting for farming. “He was led to consider forestry by reading the writings of Geo. P. Marsh regarding climatic changes induced by devastation of the forests,” Billings’s wife Julia Parmly Billings wrote about her husband, “and he thought the farmers should be taught to see the importance of preserving their woodlands.”70 Billings was also a pioneer in scientific farm management. His home is now the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.71 Billings and his wife were avid collectors of Hudson River School paintings, and they commissioned a tropical landscape from Church in 1880, one of his last major commissions. Billings ordered Church’s largest (and most expensive) size.

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“The order is for a four feet picture—The more I can have of you the better!” Billings exclaimed to his friend.72 Church had trouble finishing the painting. For nearly two years he worked on it and wrote apologetic letters to Billings and his wife. “I think I can improve it materially. I presume a week would suffice,” he wrote in October 1881, four months before he finally delivered the canvas.73 In November he brought it from his Manhattan studio to Olana. “I can usually work to better advantage in my quiet country studio—besides—I have all my studies from Nature here and may have occasion to refer to a number of them to enable me to make the improvements I wish—I think I can do what I want to the picture in a week but may require more time.”74 In December he apologized again. “I am very anxious to make the picture one of my very best—as indeed I think it now is—But after it had been out of sight for a few months—the refreshed eye detected certain faults—and also suggested certain additions which I am confident will materially improve the picture.”75 About a year into the process, Julia Billings saw the painting and told the artist that there was “too much left for [the] imagination.” As Elizabeth Kornhauser has noted, the final painting, Evening in the Tropics, betrays the marks of his many attempts at improvement as he “labored” over the canvas (fig. 94). The browns and yellows are more thickly applied, lending a weight to the composition, while the foreground is more sketchily rendered. A blurriness haloes the botanical aspects of the immediate foreground on the left. Figures are essential aspects of the scene and directly reference a specific event in Frederick Billings’s past—a tragic journey made in 1849 with his sister up the Chagres River in Panama during which she had contracted malaria or yellow fever and died.76 One could surmise that these were added or further defined after Julia Billings’s comment; they provide the narrative details to counter the unease with “too much.” But in this case, the phrase refers not, it would seem, to too many details, but to the possibility of too few. Church struggles here with painting, insisting repeatedly that he can “materially improve” the picture and yet is unable to do so. Such materiality is surprisingly visible in the canvas itself, which has a thicker paint application and heavy sensibility that contrasts with his earlier works. One could easily conclude that his issues with executing this painting mark the decline of an artist. David Miller describes the “flaccid and generalized treatment. Why Church tended to fall back into an almost Claudian rendering of the tropical landscape late in his career remains an interesting question.”77 This is certainly not an impressive work, but it is not necessarily retrograde. Rather, it is expressive of his aesthetic investments during this time in compelling and important ways. Church seems to be trying to translate his material emphasis found in Olana back into his practice as a painter, as if this were a painting in which he was attempting to both excavate and spread on all that muck, a long and arduous process, one in this case also dependent on distant memories of trips taken decades before and the hundreds of discrete sketches that document


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them. Painting may no longer be a means of innovation for Church at this point in his career, but landscape still is. Details become less about the scientific and more about the material. As Marsh wrote his text, Olmsted and Vaux made their preliminary drawings for Central Park. The site that, to quote Smithson, “they would remake in terms of earth sculpture” appeared first as “a manmade wasteland . . . treeless and barren.” A photograph in very poor condition that Smithson reproduces of the park in 1858 shows the landscape before it became a piece of “earth sculpture.” It reminds Smithson of those areas exposed to strip-mining in southeastern Ohio. “My own experience,” he writes, “is that the best sites for ‘earth art’ are sites that have been disrupted by industry, reckless urbanization, or nature’s own devastation. For instance, The Spiral Jetty is built in a dead sea, and The Broken Circle and Spiral Hill in a working sand quarry. Such land is cultivated or recycled as art.”78 In Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) the coil of rocks in the Great Salt Lake slips in and out of view as water levels rise and fall, like a peculiar stepchild of the picturesque, always playing with threshold. In a list of topics Smithson proposed to discuss at the Boston

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f i g u r e 94 Frederic Edwin Church, Evening in the Tropics, 1881. Oil on canvas, 32 ½ × 48 ⁹⁄₁₆ in. (82.6 × 123.3 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, Bequest of Clara Hinton Gould, 1948.176.


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Museum of Fine Arts in 1972, the artist wrote: “Changing views of nature. Nature as a physical dialectic rather than a representational condition. The end of landscape painting and the limits of idealism.”79 Church’s Olana is a site-specific earthwork that may seem deeply—or merely—personal, but is in fact equally bound up with the end of a certain kind of landscape painting and the limitations of a cosmological view of the world that was, by the 1880s, a form of idealism.

en d les s forms I began this book with a question from Walden: “Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?”80 With Olana, Church seems to rewrite Thoreau’s question as an emphatic, and personal, statement: “Precisely these objects that I behold make a world.” Across a bank of windows looking out over the landscape, the aggressive, vertical composition of El Khasné, Petra suggests that the mode of landscape painting that made Church famous—the panoramic format, the vast foregrounds filled with details—was no longer viable. By turning away from painting and toward what Smithson calls the “chance and change” of the natural world, it seems that Church implicitly understood this.Yet his dilemma, regardless of format or material, remained. How can one reconcile detail with whole? In a culture of details, is it possible to represent unity? “I am afraid if you had seen my house on a dull, cloudy day, you would be inclined to criticize the predominance of details, the lack of repose that [is the] most important expression in Architectural Art and indeed in all Art,” Church wrote to the art collector Charles F. Olney in 1896, four years before his death. “Fortunately the soft golden atmosphere glorified everything the day you called—even defects were lost in the general effect.”81 Church’s dream of a landscape in which details—or defects—are lost to a general effect exists only as a desire on paper and in the memory of that fleetingly perfect day. In the United States during the nineteenth century, landscape painting was the medium that could most powerfully express the great concerns of the period: constructing national identity, testing imperial boundaries, creating—or retaining—a harmony between the scientific and the divine, making the natural world ever more visible. Church’s paintings engage with these issues while also often resisting them. They may offer, or appear to offer, a larger idea, whether moral, political, or religious, while emphasizing the act of looking above all. And thus they reveal an essential tension between the cultural expectation that paintings should communicate a discernible idea and an emerging sense that seeing might not lead to knowledge. Didi-Huberman suggests that “every painting threatens us” with an ultimatum of sorts: “‘The painting or the detail!’”82 The threat that Church’s works pose begins here but extends beyond the canvas to expose the cultural stakes of that choice at this particular historical moment. The problem, and even the appeal, of


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Church’s canvases for mid-nineteenth-century viewers was, in a sense, just that: the detail is not the painting, not a metonym for it. Rather, the details present a viable challenge to the painting: the painting or the detail. They exist in excess of meaning, going beyond what is necessary to create an “effect.” The turn to the environment with Olana accommodates this reformulation of excess as material process. In those ecstatic letters about muck and roads, we find again the artist who painted The Heart of the Andes. The Heart of the Andes gives visual form to Darwin’s entangled bank, assuring us, as Darwin did in the final paragraph of The Origin of Species, that “the war of nature” may have produced life, but that life had been “originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.”83 Yet, as is well known, Darwin added this reference to God in the second edition of his book, in a clause—a kind of belatedly reassuring gesture, as if with one word he could bind together what his theories so majestically undid. God, in Darwin’s paragraph, becomes just one detail, not a symbolic entity capable of bringing structure to those “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.”84 “There is a danger,” wrote Emma Darwin to her husband in 1839, “in giving up on revelation.”85 Charles Darwin, delaying the publication of his seminal work, worrying about its reception, felt this acutely: the danger of rejecting a system based on revelation, one that always led back to Something, a divine Someone. Frederic Church, like Henry David Thoreau, did not give up on such a possibility, but his later works begin to suggest the limits of such an epistemology. The status of detail traces this shift. Detail becomes not a means toward an end—knowledge, wholeness, unity—but rather a beautiful and disruptive mode of expression in its own right.

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The Insignificant Detail on may 13, 1966, Life magazine published a seventeen-page article about Olana (fig. 95). “Must This Mansion Be Destroyed?” appeared during a vigorous national campaign to save the estate and its contents from being sold and dispersed into private hands. “Today Olana is in imminent danger of destruction,” the article warned. The fatalistic tone is conveyed by the photograph that spreads across the first two pages. A glimpse of Church’s home is seen from behind a screen of browning autumn leaves, a framing device that turns the house into a picturesque detail while also lending the scene an ominous (and voyeuristic) Hitchcockian air, as if this were a strange mash-up of earlier aesthetic conventions and a film still from Psycho (1960) of the Bates house, with its similar square tower and Second Empire motifs. Another such image appears on the fourth page of the article as well, a single window illuminated by the sun’s reflected light, along with a photographic portrait of the artist as a young man and a butterfly pinned into a small, elaborate frame. Church’s paintings, many of which were then in an exhibition organized by David Huntington to raise national awareness of the artist and his endangered home, were “a kind of Cinerama of yesteryear,” the article concluded, the painter “a native master whose combination of precise detail and grandiose scale goes far to accomplish his aim: to lead nature’s ‘beauty forth for the world’s wonderment.’ ”1 After reading the Life article, the artist Dan Flavin visited Olana. Flavin had recently relocated from Manhattan to the Hudson River Valley. In December 1967, he published his thoughts on the visit as part of a piece in Artforum entitled “some

Detail of f i g u r e 101

f i g u r e 95 “Must This Mansion Be Destroyed?” Life, May 13, 1966, 64–65 and 74–75. 1966 Text © Time Inc. Photographs © Henri Dauman / Dauman All rights reserved 2015.


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fi g u r e 96 Frederic Edwin Church, Sunset, Jamaica, July 1865. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 12 ⅛ × 18 ⅛ in. (30.8 × 46 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1981.26. fi g u r e 97 Frederic Edwin Church, Winter Twilight from Olana, c. 1871–72. Oil on offwhite academy board, 10 ¹/₁₆ × 13 in. (25.6 × 33 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1976.4.

other comments . . . more pages from a spleenish journal.” The house existed “between decay and restoration, a dull state,” he declared. “I wished that I had not seen it.” The mandatory tour was terrible. The house was deteriorating. Loss was visible everywhere: the intended optical effects were “distorted because of alterations”; the “polychromed detail” was “either painted out” or “severely weathered”; “household fittings seem to be depleted”; “the gardens have not been preserved.” Flavin lamented that “the high sense of exotic artifice which I had wanted to feel is no longer present.”2 But two aspects remained intact, and beautiful: the distant views of the Hudson and Church’s small oil sketches of the landscape (figs. 96, 97). Although the “garrulous girl art student” conducting the tour dismissed them as “unimportant,” for Flavin they were “the most beautiful things to see at ‘Olana.’ ” Flavin ends his notes in typically irascible form: “If I were Church, I would have had my atmosphere ‘broken’ and dispersed and my house burned to the ground. (Its integrity must have been that important to the man.) Now, what remains is to be adjusted, played with, altered, distorted, etc., toward some insufficient antiquarian result.”3 Flavin’s declaration is self-consciously provocative, but there is also a tone of pathos. An artwork was in decay, and its most beautiful remaining features had gone unrecognized. To suggest that Church should have “ ‘broken’ and dispersed” his own creation was, in a sense, what Flavin himself would have done; he had already, by this point, destroyed a large number of his old drawings and paintings.4 Later, he would declare that only he could install his fluorescent light works in the way that they should be viewed. “I would like to leave a will and testament to declare everything void at my death. . . . All posthumous interpretations are less. I know this. So I would rather see it all disappear into the wind. Take it all away.”5 In the late 1970s, Flavin began to collect nineteenth-century American drawings. Funded in part by the Dia Art Foundation, he assembled an important and


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sizable collection of works by artists such as John Frederick Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, and Sanford Gifford, among others.6 These were the drawings on the market at the time; Church’s sketches were almost certainly not, but one could easily imagine that Flavin would have acquired one given the opportunity and the means.7 “I wish I had a bank roll so as to have more of it around,” he told Tiffany Bell.8 For both Church and Flavin, sketching and drawing were part of their daily artistic practice. Preoccupied with building Olana (“the house grows—so do the rocks some say”), Church still found time to “sketch some of the fine things hung in the sky,” as he told Martin Johnson Heade in 1870.9 Flavin propped up his nineteenth-century landscapes around his home on the Hudson. At night, he liked to stay up late working, surrounded by the drawings he had assembled.10 During the same time he was buying these drawings, and also with Dia’s funding, Flavin arranged for the purchase of an imposing, turn-of-the-century Moorish mansion on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. He envisioned turning it into a museum, with a permanent installation of his fluorescent lights and an exhibition space for his collection of drawings. He planned to put the nineteenth-century drawings in a room with panoramic views of the landscape.11 Yet this fact is little known, rarely discussed, and most often met with expressions of surprise, even disbelief. What did an artist most closely associated with Minimalism see in the works of the Hudson River School? The links to the twentieth-century avant-garde have long been emphasized in the literature about Flavin.12 Meanwhile, his interest in the nineteenth century is treated—if at all—as an aside, like a strange aberration or unaccountable irony. But Flavin excelled at irony and ambivalence. His own work also teaches us about the evocative, if perplexing, power of what appears to be an aside, as with his parenthetical dedications to his untitled “lights”: (to a man, George McGovern), (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein, on not seeing anyone in the room), (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow). Some political, some personal, others rather inexplicable. “Peachblow,” for instance, was a type of nineteenth-century American glass that Flavin admired (fig. 98).13 Dan Flavin’s 1967 visit to Olana marks his growing preoccupation with the American nineteenth century. And in this he was not alone. His contemporary Dan Graham, the conceptual artist, claimed an obsession with the nineteenth century: “My hero is Thomas Eakins, my work comes very much out of Frederic Church,” he said in an interview. “So I think the Hudson River School was very important for all of us.”14 Flavin discussed his own interest even more explicitly, noting that he could identify with “the exactitude or the precision of record and the accuracy of the light in John Frederick Kensett and Church.” But, while Church’s theatrics could sometimes be “bothersome,” Flavin appreciated Kensett for being “underdone”; he was, Flavin said, “a sneak as an artist” (fig. 99). After discussing Kensett’s “stingy but generous little touch,” he states: “I really do like little and least art. It has nothing to do with ‘minimal’ at all.”15

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fi g u r e 98 Dan Flavin, untitled (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow), 1966–68. Daylight, yellow, and pink fluorescent light, 8 ft. (244 cm) square across a corner. CL no. 121. © 2014 Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York / London. fi g u r e 99 John Frederick Kensett, Eaton’s Neck, Long Island, 1872. Oil on canvas, 18 × 36 in. (45.7 × 91.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Thomas Kensett, 1874, 74.29.


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Flavin would frequently mine the permanent collections of museums that were showing his work in order to develop small, parallel exhibitions. Traces of these curatorial efforts seem to have largely vanished, but references to a couple remain. In the fall of 1972, while his work was being shown at Rice University, the artist curated a small show of drawings from the Menil Collection that were exhibited at Rice.16 In it he included Claes Oldenburg’s Proposed Colossal Monument for Central Park, N.Y.C.—Moving Pool Balls, a work about the fantasy of scale without matter (fig. 100). “If I am a landscape painter,” Oldenburg said in 1969, “(and my ‘monuments’ are an excuse for doing landscapes), then I am a painter of the complete landscape, not only the look of the weather and the lay of the land, etc., but also the emotions of the place (mine and others’), the history of the place (some of which I imagine), and whatever else I am aware of in a place. I am unable to leave things out, so I compress and superimpose to get a subject I can handle.”17 What was important to creating such works, Oldenburg stated, was “a strong sensation of if not knowledge (no definitely not knowledge) [then] of physical principles.” But just as important was “the sharp natural eye for detail.”18 Flavin organized another exhibition at the Fort Worth Art Museum (now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) in 1976, two years before he started collecting American drawings. In the entrance gallery of the museum he installed a selection of American paintings, drawings, and prints from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1930s, on the “theme” of “some light on the American landscape.” He f i g u r e 100 Claes Oldenburg, Proposed Colossal Monument for Central Park, N.Y.C.–Moving Pool Balls, 1967. Pencil and watercolor on paper, 22 ⅛ × 30 in. (56.2 × 76.2 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston. Copyright 1967 Claes Oldenburg.

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wanted, the exhibition catalogue briefly states, to “give visitors a visual alternative to his work.”19 In a sense, Flavin’s museum on the Hudson was supposed to support such “alternative” views on a much larger scale. But Dia’s cultural utopianism ran up against bleak financial realities and, by the early 1980s, the foundation could no longer support the artist’s collecting or his institutional vision. The museum was never realized and the building was sold. The Hudson River School collection ended with a total of 84 drawings.20 Dia:Beacon opened in 2003, about a dozen miles up the Hudson from the place where Flavin proposed his museum. But Flavin’s nineteenth-century landscape drawings, purchased with Dia’s funds, are not exhibited there, where they could be close to his fluorescent light sculptures as he had once envisioned.21 Reviewing the museum, Hal Foster wrote, “One hundred and fifty years ago the Hudson River School also trafficked in an American version of the sublime. Might Dia:Beacon constitute a Hudson River School II, with aesthetic contemplation reworked as perceptual intensity on an industrial scale?”22 Foster’s word “trafficked” suggests the stuff of the world: commerce and capitalism, physical goods, and perhaps also shady deals and dirty hands—all those things that Greenbergian modernism sought to disavow in the name of the object as such. We could return here to Henry James’s Theobald: “‘At least no merchant traffics in my heart!’”23 But there is another narrative at play here, one that Foster’s apparent dismissal points to: a narrative of embarrassment—an embarrassment about all those big, expansive, detailed canvases, crammed full of things, the way they lay claim to space, both representational and literal, the way that, to return to James’s own assessment of Church, they “make quiet people stare.”24 And Church’s paintings were indeed massive objects. They were shipped around the country and across the ocean, shown as single-picture exhibitions with every move covered by the press, seen by tens of thousands of people all paying an admission fee. This was Church’s model in the 1850s and ’60s. So then one might ask: what of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, that 340-ton granite megalith that moved ponderously across the desert in the spring of 2012 through four California counties and twenty-two cities while a blog,YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and Twitter tracked its every move until it arrived at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to be seen by tens of thousands of people all paying an admission fee? The Great Picture persists. The easy connection here would be through spectacle, but there is also a more fundamental relationship to mass and movement, one that Jennifer Roberts has illuminated as a pressing methodological concern in TransportingVisions.25 “I like the idea,” said Smithson in 1969 in a conversation with Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim, “of shipping back the rocks across the country. It gives me more of a weighty sensation. If I just thought about it and held it in my


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mind it would be a manifestation of idealistic reduction and I’m not really interested in that.” What Smithson was interested in was “the ponderousness of the material.”26 Writing about Frederic Church in a 1976 article entitled “19th-Century Landscape: Poetry and Property,” the critic Donald Kuspit found the question of materiality central to the artist’s work, calling Church a “highly ambiguous visionary . . . a visionary of matter.” 27 In Angela Miller’s words, for Church “the material was the spiritual.”28 Church’s paintings take an increasingly material turn later in his career. He reuses motifs, returning to sketches he had made during his major mid-century journeys and to his memories of those travels. Around 1875, he looked again to his studies of icebergs and painted a small picture of a single berg with a single ship highlighted against its jagged white shape (fig. 101). The mountainous form emerges from the midsection of the canvas, a chalky grey-blue streak at its base, a cool yellow sky behind it, deep greens and blacks touched with coral creating the sea in front of it, all done in a quick, sketchy way, with none of that methodical precision that characterized each wave and ripple in Niagara. Here is also the whole ship, one could say, not the ruined piece that Church belatedly inserted into The Icebergs in 1863. Here is the crow’s nest and the taut full sails on the mast, the vessel almost perfectly echoing the form of the iceberg: the diagonal of the front sail and the

f i g u r e 101 Frederic Edwin Church, The Iceberg, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 22 × 27 in. (55.9 × 68.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.6.

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fi g u r e 102 Frederic Edwin Church, The Iceberg, 1891. Oil on canvas, 28 ¹⁄₅ × 39 ¼ in. (71.6 × 99.7 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Howard N. Eavenson Memorial Fund for the Howard N. Eavenson Americana Collection, 72.7.3.

angle of the right edge of the ice; the rectangular set of sails in the central mast and the squared-off tower of the berg directly above it; the peaked rear mast and the illuminated white peak behind it. The long, dark line of the boat’s hull can be found in the iceberg’s terrace lines. Although we see no person on this ship, it appears to be in motion, the barest trace of white rimming its bow, indicating small waves. In fact, I would argue that this is a painting that thematizes movement—slow, ponderous movement. Painted in the middle of excavating his lake and building his home on that “growing” foundation of rock, Church paints a picture of a hulking geological mass that is nevertheless always changing, always shifting, if mostly slightly, quietly, a little here, a little there. The artist takes as his subject a fundamentally kinetic object, making his painting about process and temporality. Church was no longer painting “Great Pictures” or transporting them around the country or across oceans; instead he made paintings about the slow movement of objects in the natural world. In 1891, he returned to the same composition—one iceberg, one ship, a dark sea, a bright sky (fig. 102). But this time the ice is a strikingly bright white, cleaner and more defined, especially on its central face, not white inflected by violet and


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yellow, brown and pale pink, as in the 1875 work. This berg is more of a singular massed object, without so many steep peaks. The vessel speeds ahead, away from the iceberg, at an almost perpendicular angle, its crisp sails perfectly outlined, a tiny figure visible in the bow. The iceberg consequently appears more static, its relationship with the boat less intimate, a sense of narrative privileged over that previous emphasis on matter and the slow passage of time. Church had just completed his new studio wing, and this was the first canvas he painted in it. “Filled with enthusiasm I attacked my first canvas and an Iceberg scene is the result[,] the best I think I ever painted and the truest.”29 It is as if this painting could be a stay against the forces of time. In 1893 he did a small sketch of a steamboat belching thick black smoke as it plows through the sea (fig. 103). An iceberg—some calligraphic lines painted over with thinned swaths of white gouache—emerges in the sky above, set off by the rubbing and hatch marks of graphite, while its body is mostly obscured below. Salmon-colored strokes indicate the light of the sun on the white ice. A man stands on the prow of the ship. Here we seem far from Olana. But the notation at the bottom edge betrays the drawing’s origins: “Suggested by Stain on a Wall.” A material trace becomes the basis for representation. Using the barest of tools (graphite, gouache, paper), Church draws a landscape. He begins with an aberrant mark, the very definition of the “insignificant” detail, and sees in it a little world.

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f i g u r e 103 Frederic Edwin Church, Iceberg and Steamship, 1893. Graphite and white and salmon gouache on light gray-green paper, 8 × 13 ½ in. (20.3 × 34.3 cm). Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Hudson, New York, OL.1980.1578.


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Notes i nt ro d u c t i on. s e e i ng i n d e ta i l 1. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; repr., New York: Penguin, 1999), 179. 2. Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 19, 1851, repr. in Material Faith: Thoreau on Science, ed. Laura Dassow Walls (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1999), 25. 3. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to Erastus Dow Palmer, October 18, 1884. Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. 4. William James Stillman, “Exhibition of the National Academy: First Article,” Crayon 3 (April 1856): 116. 5. Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., “Worthington Whittredge, Landscape Painter,” Outlook, July 2, 1904, 533. 6. Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993), 5. 7. Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (1987; repr., New York: Routledge, 2007). 8. Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 233. The appendix, “The Detail and the Pan” (229–71), is particularly important for my argument. 9. Daniel Arasse, Le détail: Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture (Paris: Flammarion, 1996), 11. “Il semble meme échapper à une prise conceptuelle sûre. Mais c’est aussi cette condensation de sens différents qui fait l’efficacité du terme pour pénétrer la complexité concrète des rapports qui s’engagent devant et dans le tableau.” (All translations of Arasse are mine.) 10. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Detail.” www. (accessed November 10, 2014). Emphasis added. 11. Barbara Novak discusses the painter’s use of Claudian conventions. See Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825–1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 25, 28, 73, 128. Katherine Emma Manthorne explores Church’s divergences from this model, “or his inability to ‘tame’ it.” Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1989). Maggie M. Cao has recently argued for Martin Johnson Heade’s hummingbird paintings


as subversive reconfigurations of more conventional landscape compositions identified with Church. Cao, “Heade’s Hummingbirds and the Ungrounding of Landscape,” American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 48–75. Her dissertation, unfinished at the time of the writing of this book, promises to be a crucial examination of the “end” of landscape painting in the late nineteenth century. Cao, “Episodes at the End of Landscape: Hudson River School to American Modernism” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2014). 12. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art” (1841), repr. in Sarah Burns and John Davis, eds., American Art to 1900: A Documentary History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 193. 13. Novak states that the “reconciliation of detail and effect [was] stressed by contemporary esthetics.” Novak, Nature and Culture, 123. Franklin Kelly has pointed out that “whether or not precise and realistic detail was even desirable in landscape painting” became a subject of increasing debate after the Civil War, when Church’s paintings were more frequently criticized for their “insistent detail.” Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988), 125. 14. Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1867), 375. In this way, Church “exhibits the New England mind pictorially developed.” Ibid. 15. G.W. Sheldon, American Painters (New York: D. Appleton, 1881), 13. 16. Rachael Ziady DeLue, George Inness and the Science of Landscape (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 134–37. 17. Michael Leja argues for an excess of realism at work in Thomas Eakins’s paintings; we are given more “detailed information” than “strict mimesis would have required.” Leja, Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 64. 18. Mieke Bal’s theory of narrative is helpful here, particularly her assertion that the “text” (“a finite, structured whole composed of signs”) and the “story” are not identical. Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), 5–6.

notes to pages 1–5

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19. “Some Remarks on the Landscape Art,” Bulletin of the American Art-Union 2 (December 1849): 18, quoted in Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825–1875 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 83. 20. Alex Woloch, The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 18, 144–45, 196, 343–44 n.12. 21. Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, 2nd ed., trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon, 1995), 16. 22. The literature directly addressing detail is not extensive, although discussions and allusions to the concept appear often. See, for instance, Heinrich Wölfflin’s chapter on multiplicity and unity in his Principles of Art History (1915), in which he distinguishes between the classical and baroque in terms of their handling of detail and wholeness. “One of the first manifestations of modern criticism,” he states at the end of the section on painting in this chapter, “was that, in the name of true art, it again demanded the isolation of detail.” Wölfflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, 7th ed., trans. M. D. Hottinger (1932; repr., New York: Dover, 1950), 184. Ernst Gombrich theorizes detail in terms of the illusion of realism. His “etc. principle” is “the assumption we tend to make that to see a few members of a series is to see them all” and thus “the amount of information packed into the picture may hinder the illusion as frequently as it helps it.” E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, 2nd ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1961), 220–21. For a recent range of reflections on detail by twelve authors, see “Notes From the Field: Detail,” Art Bulletin 94 (December 2012): 490–514. 23. Schor, Reading in Detail, xli–xliii. 24. “Un détail est choquant.” Arasse, “Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture,” in Histoires de peintures (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 290. In a whimsical comparison, Arasse states: “Therefore, I believe that the traditional practice of art history consists of extinguishing the detail. The art historian is like a firefighter of detail.” (Pourtant, je crois que la pratique habituelle de l’histoire de l’art consiste à éteindre le détail. L’historien est un peu comme le pompier du detail.) Ibid. This is a collection of essays based on lectures given by Arasse shortly before his death. 25. “Le statut du détail est incertain en peinture parce que le détail trouble.” Arasse, “La peinture au detail,” in Histoires de peintures, 275.

26. These ideas are discussed throughout Arasse’s work. He proposes, in the essay “Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture,” to undertake an “anthropology of detail” since he judges a “history” to be impossible. Arasse, Histoires de peintures, 290. For a lively performance of his method (recently translated into English), see Arasse, Take A Closer Look, trans. Alyson Waters (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013). 27. “Le détail est un moment qui fait événement dans le tableau, qui tend irrésistiblement à arrêter le regard, à troubler l’économie de son parcours. Or, cet écart, s’il risqué d’être catastrophique pour le ‘tout ensemble,’ si le tableau risqué de s’y disloque et le regard de s’y noyer, c’est aussi un moment privilégé où le plaisir du tableau tend à devenir jouissance de la peinture.” Arasse, Le détail, 12. 28. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or The Whale (1851; repr., New York: Penguin, 1988), 145. 29. Schor, Reading in Detail, xlv. 30. “Notices of New Works,” Albion, November 22, 1851, 561. 31. “Literary Notices,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 4 (December 1851): 137. 32. The so-called “Great Picture” originated in late eighteenth-century England when American John Singleton Copley exhibited The Death of the Earl of Chatham (1781) on its own instead of sending the canvas to the Royal Academy. In six weeks, Copley’s painting attracted more than 20,000 visitors and brought in £5,000. Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1978), 105. For detailed accounts of Copley’s single-picture exhibitions, see Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 2:280–357, and Emily Ballew Neff, “The History Theater: Production and Spectatorship in Copley’s The Death of Major Peirson,” in Neff, John Singleton Copley in England (London: Merrell Holberton; Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995), 60–90. On the emergence of touring history paintings in the United States, see Tanya Pohrt, “Touring Pictures: The Exhibition of American History Paintings in the Early Republic” (PhD diss., University of Delaware, 2013). 33. J. Gray Sweeney, “An ‘Indomitable Explorative Enterprise’: Inventing National Parks,” in Pamela J. Belanger, Inventing Acadia: Artists and Tourists at Mount Desert (Rockland, ME: Farnsworth Art Museum, 1999), 143. By 1863, Harper’s Weekly stated that Church “alone, with the confidence of success, exhibits his single works as they are completed. No other name, perhaps, among

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our artists would summon such crowds as his.” “Cotopaxi,” Harper’s Weekly 7 (April 4, 1863): 210. 34. “The Man About Town: Pictures Canvassed,” Harper’s Weekly 1 (May 30, 1857): 339. 35. William James Stillman, The Autobiography of a Journalist, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901), 1:115. 36. William James Stillman, “Exhibition of the National Academy: First Article,” Crayon 3 (April 1856): 117. 37. “Republicanism and the Fine Arts,” Scientific American 1 (December 3, 1859): 369. 38. James Jackson Jarves, The Art-Idea: Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture in America, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1864), 254. Church owned a copy of Jarves’s book. 39. George Inness to Ripley Hitchcock, March 23, 1884, quoted in DeLue, George Inness, 22. 40. Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature, 1830–1880 (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1998), 19. 41. Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, Church’s Painting: The Heart of the Andes (New York: D. Appleton, 1859), 13, 15. Olana State Historic Site (OL.1986.135). 42. Albert Ten Eyck Gardner, “Scientific Sources of the Full-Length Landscape: 1850,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (October 1945): 62. Gardner was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 43. Henry James, “On Some Pictures Lately Exhibited,” Galaxy 20 (July 1875): 89–97, repr. in American Art 1700–1960: Sources and Documents, ed. John W. McCoubrey (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 168. 44. Schor, Reading in Detail, 101. “To focus on the detail and more particularly on the detail as negativity is to become aware, as I discovered, of its participation in a larger semantic network, bounded on the one side by the ornamental, with its traditional connotations of effeminacy and decadence, and on the other, by the everyday, whose ‘prosiness’ is rooted in the domestic sphere of social life presided over by women.” Ibid., xlii. 45. Ibid., 152. 46. Henry James, The Art of the Novel (New York: Scribner, 1962), 157, quoted in Schor, Reading in Detail, 152. 47. Schor, Reading in Detail, 176. 48. “The Exhibition of Pictures at the Metropolitan Fair,” New-York Daily Tribune, April 9, 1864, 12. 49. Jarves, The Art-Idea, 233. 50. Reporting on the artist’s death in 1900, a Brooklyn paper noted that the news “came to a generation


which had personally almost forgotten him.” T. C. E., “Church, the Artist,” Brooklyn Eagle, April 15, 1900, 25. Copy in the Olana Research Collection. An exhibition of his works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an institution that Church had helped to found, followed his death that year. The New York Times review was tepid at best, finding that his paintings could often be “crude,” although the artist was “unquestionably a painter of ability and of imagination.” The Heart of the Andes, which the paper noted had “been in retirement for some years,” was judged to be both “a remarkable piece of composition” and a painting with “too much detail work.” “The Week in Art,” New York Times, May 26, 1900, 348. 51. Gaudio’s statement is from a roundtable discussion (“The Art Seminar”) published in Rachael Ziady DeLue and James Elkins, eds., Landscape Theory (New York: Routledge, 2008). 52. David C. Huntington, “Introduction,” in Gerald L. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1980), 9. 53. The foundational monographs on Church began with Huntington’s pioneering dissertation, “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826–1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth” (PhD diss.,Yale University, 1960), and his subsequent book, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era (New York: G. Braziller, 1966). Franklin Kelly’s 1989 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art brought the artist’s major works together for the first time and produced a remarkable catalogue: Franklin Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989). Essential to understanding Church’s oeuvre is Gerald L. Carr’s Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana State Historic Site, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). See also Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: In Search of the Promised Land (New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 2000); Kelly and Carr, The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845–1854 (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1987); Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape; John K. Howat, Frederic Church (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005). Huntington’s approach remains, in Kelly’s words, “the fundamental point of departure for all subsequent scholars.” Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, viii. 54. Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (New York: Praeger, 1969); Novak, Nature and Culture; Novak, Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels, and Patterns in American Art and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University

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Press, 2007); John Wilmerding, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875 (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); Kevin J. Avery, Church’s Great Picture: The Heart of the Andes (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993); Eleanor Jones Harvey, Painted Sketch, and TheVoyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church’s Arctic Masterpiece (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2002); Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance. 55. Angela Miller, Empire of the Eye, 167–208. In an earlier article, Miller remarks on the broader aesthetic issue, “The dilemma of a place-centered nationalism was on one level an aesthetic problem: a nationalism compounded of multiple centers was like a painting that was an accumulation of detail.” Miller, “Everywhere and Nowhere: The Making of the National Landscape,” American Literary History 4, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 213. 56. John Davis, The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 168–207; Bryan Wolf, “When Is a Painting Most Like a Whale?: Ishmael, Moby-Dick, and the Sublime,” in New Essays on Moby-Dick, ed. Richard H. Brodhead (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 141–79; Wolf, “On First Looking at Frederic Church’s The Andes of Ecuador (And Then Looking Some More),” Orion: A Nature Quarterly 7, no. 4 (September 1988): 20–23; W. J. T. Mitchell, ed. Landscape and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); DeLue and Elkins, Landscape Theory. 57. Mitchell, “Imperial Landscape,” in Landscape and Power, 13. 58. Novak, Nature and Culture, 71, 76. Novak remarks on Church’s “almost agonized desire to make the spirit of nature gleam through each detail.” Ibid., 71. 59. Barbara Novak, “Grand Opera and the Small Still Voice,” Art in America 59, no. 2 (March–April 1971): 67, 72. Admittedly, the cover image would most likely have been chosen by the editors. Novak’s article, as the title suggests, argues for two major types of landscape painting: the operatic, as exemplified by Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran, and the quiet “luminists,” including Fitz H. Lane, Martin Johnson Heade, and John Frederick Kensett. For a reconsideration of such categories, see Alan Wallach, “Rethinking ‘Luminism’: Taste, Class, and Aestheticizing Tendencies in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting,” in The Cultured Canvas: New Perspectives on American Landscape Painting, ed. Nancy Siegel (Lebanon: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012), 115–47. 60. Thomas Cole to Asher B. Durand, January 4, 1838, repr. in Louis Legrand Noble, The Life and Works of

Thomas Cole, N.A. 3rd ed. (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, 1856), 248. 61. Miller, Empire of the Eye, 74. 62. Carol T. Christ, The Finer Optic: The Aesthetic of Particularity in Victorian Poetry (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1975), ix, 6. For a more wide-ranging cultural discussion of this “finer optic,” see Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 63. Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone, 2007), 16–17. The authors argue that, “by the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a gap had opened up between the objectivity of shared reason and shared world.” Ibid., 262. 64. Richards, Imperial Archive, 1, 4–7. 65. Ibid., 4. 66. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1857), 540. 67. Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “Information.” (accessed November 10, 2014). 68. Although I will not focus on this term, there is much new work on the subject. See Daniel Headrick, When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Richard D. Brown, Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Luciano Floridi, Information: AVery Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); and James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (New York: Pantheon, 2011). 69. The Art Journal of London declared, in 1865, that Church was “carrying on Turner’s work where he left off.” W. P. Bayley, “Mr. Church’s Pictures: Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, and The Aurora Borealis, Considered Also with Reference to English Art,” Art Journal (London) 4 (September 1, 1865): 266, quoted in Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly et al., Frederic Edwin Church, 61. With few paintings by Turner in American collections until late in the nineteenth century, the British master was known mostly through prints and through Ruskin’s eloquent defense and discussion of the artist in his seminal, five-volume book Modern Painters, published between 1843 and 1860. Church was influenced by Ruskin, but Ruskin was not part of the chorus naming the American as Turner’s successor. Ruskin never published any responses to Church’s works, although he did implicitly, and unfavorably,

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refer to Church on occasion, disparaging him for his itinerancy and for his country’s lack of history. Privately, in a letter to his friend Charles Eliot Norton, Ruskin wrote, “Church’s Cotopaxi is an interesting picture. He can draw clouds as few men can, though he does not know yet what painting means, and I suppose never will, but he has a great gift of his own.” Ruskin to Norton, August 15, 1865, repr. in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. (London: George Allen, 1903–12), 36:495. 70. Huntington, Frederic Edwin Church, 264. 71. Gillian Beer writes, “it is hard to overestimate the imaginative turmoil brought about by evolutionary theory.” Beer, Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 10–11. For recent work on Darwin and the visual arts, see Diana Donald and Jane Munro, eds., Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts (London:Yale University Press; New Haven:Yale Center for British Art; Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, 2009); Pamela Kort and Max Hollein, eds., Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins (Cologne: Wienand, 2009); Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer, eds., The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2009); Philip Prodger, Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); and Jonathan Smith, Charles Darwin andVictorianVisual Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 72. Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe, trans. E. C. Otté, 5 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1849–58), 1:vii. This is the edition that Church owned. 73. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Detail.” 74. “Fine Arts Exhibitions,” New York Herald, December 5, 1859. Copy in the Olana Research Collection. 75. Robert Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape,” Artforum 11 (February 1973), repr. in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 164. 76. Christ, The Finer Optic, 6. 77. Wanda M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), xxii. Such description is also the cornerstone of Jules Prown’s material culture theory and revisionist formalism. See Jules David Prown, “Style as Evidence,” Winterthur Portfolio 15, no. 3 (Autumn 1980): 197–210, and Prown, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory


and Method,” Winterthur Portfolio 17, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 1–19. 78. Jas´ Elsner, “Art History as Ekphrasis,” Art History 33, no. 1 (February 2010): 10–27. Two texts, both influential to the writing of this book, that embrace ekphrasis as a sustained part of method are Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1990), and Edward Snow, A Study ofVermeer, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). 79. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859; repr., New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004), 384. The book was originally published under the title: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin removed the first word, “On,” in the second edition. 80. Elizabeth Bishop to Anne Stevenson, January 8, 1964, in Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, ed. Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz (New York: Library of America, 2008), 861.

c h a p t e r 1. the monumenta l i mag e 1. Home Journal, May 9, 1857, 2, quoted in David C. Huntington, “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826–1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1960), 86. 2. For the specific significance of the tree stump, see Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., “ ‘The Ravages of the Axe’: The Meaning of the Tree Stump in Nineteenth-Century American Art,” Art Bulletin 61, no. 4 (December 1979): 611–26. The quotation in Cikovsky’s title comes from Thomas Cole, who lamented “the ravages of the axe” in his Essay on American Scenery (1836). See also Barbara Novak, “The Double-Edged Axe,” Art in America 64, no. 1 (January–February 1976): 44–50. 3. For a critic’s description of this lateral movement, see “Sketchings,” Crayon 4 (May 4, 1856): 157, quoted in Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 51. 4. Alan Wallach argues for the “elongated rectangle” of Niagara as itself “a signifier of the panoramic mode,” a mode that, he contends, is intimately connected with middle-class identity. The tower, and the figure in it, becomes “another inscription of the panoramic.” I find this argument compelling, although I disagree that the

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person in the tower “doubles or reflects the viewer” by seeing “virtually a reverse image of what the viewer sees.” See Wallach, “Accounting for the Panoramic in Hudson River School Landscape Painting,” in New World: Creating an American Art, ed. Ortud Westheider and Karsten Müller (Hamburg: Bucerius Kunst Forum; Munich: Hirmer, 2007), 83–85. 5. Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1990), 159–244, esp. 239–40. 6. Rachael Ziady DeLue, “Elusive Landscapes and Shifting Grounds,” in DeLue and James Elkins, eds., Landscape Theory (New York: Routledge, 2008), 5. 7. Henry James, “Niagara,” repr. in The Art of Travel: Scenes and Journeys in America, England, France and Italy from the Travel Writings of Henry James, ed. Morton Dauwen Zabel (NewYork: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958), 88, 90–91. 8. “Fine Arts: Church’s Niagara,” Albion, May 2, 1857, 213. “Church’s Painting of Niagara Falls,” NewYork Daily News, May 1857, repr. in Church’s Painting of Nature’s Grandest Scene, Niagara,The Great Fall, by Frederic Edward [sic] Church (New York: Williams, Stevens, Williams, 1857), 8. Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY (OL.1986.130). This was the prospectus for the chromolithograph of the painting. 9. James Jackson Jarves, Art-Hints: Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1855), 101–2, 104. 10. “Church’s Painting of Niagara Falls,” 8. 11. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton (1757; repr., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), 39, 57, 58. 12. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, ed. Robert R. Wark (1769–90; repr., New Haven:Yale University Press, 1975), 44, 50, 58, 65. “It is impossible,” Reynolds concludes, “for a picture composed of so many parts to have that effect so indispensably necessary to grandeur, that of one complete whole. . . . Many little things will not make a great one.” Ibid., 58, 65. Church owned a copy of the 1851 edition of The Literary Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds. On the concept of the sublime and American landscape painting, see Andrew Wilton and Tim Barringer, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880 (London: Tate Publishing, 2002). 13. Thomas Cole, “Notes on Art,” in Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, The Life andWorks of Thomas Cole, N. A. 3rd ed. (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, 1856), 117. “In confirmation of this doctrine,” Cole writes, “I have

only to appeal to Claude, G. Poussin, and Salvator Rosa.” Ibid. On the sublime as the “language of the imagination” in Cole’s own work, see Bryan Jay Wolf, Romantic Re-Visions: Culture and Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century American Painting and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 177–236. 14. See Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). Stampp argues that 1857 was the year “when the North and South reached the political point of no return.” Ibid., xviii. 15. “Editor’s Easy Chair,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 19 (July 1859): 271. Emphasis added. 16. Gilbert Haven and Thomas Russell, Incidents and Anecdotes of Rev. Edward T.Taylor (Boston, 1852), 214–16, quoted in Elizabeth McKinsey, Niagara Falls: Icon of the American Sublime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 107–8. 17. Badeau calls Church’s work “the finest picture yet done by an American.” Adam Badeau, “American Art,” in TheVagabond (New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1859), 123–24. David Huntington discusses the connection between Badeau’s writing and Church’s painting in “Frederic Church’s Niagara: Nature and the Nation’s Type,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 25 (Spring 1983): 100–105. 18. The critic for the New York Tribune, for instance, praised Church for having “given his country this monumental work.” “The Exhibition of Pictures at the Metropolitan Fair,” New-York Daily Tribune, April 9, 1864, 12. Boston’s Daily Evening Transcript noted that Church “seeks the most colossal subjects, and he paints them on a proportionate scale.” “Church’s Pictures and Roger’s Statuettes in England,” Daily Evening Transcript, July 14, 1865, n.p. Copy in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site. 19. This particular critic for the BostonWeekly Traveler found that such “minuteness” did “not in the least clash with the broad beauty of the whole.” “Church’s Painting of Niagara Falls,” 12. 20. Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” trans. Peter Preuss (1874; repr., Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980), 11–12, 14, 17, 21–22. 21. Russ Castronovo, Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 109–11. 22. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, repr. in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 2000), 494.

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23. Søren Kierkegaard, “The Rotation Method,” in Either/ Or, repr. in A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Robert Bretall (New York: Modern Library, 1946), 27. Heidegger, who was profoundly influenced by both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, would later contend in Being and Time (1927) that forgetting makes memory possible: “Just as expectation is possible only on the basis of awaiting, remembering [Erinnerung] is possible only on the basis of forgetting, and not the other way around.” Forgetting, Heidegger continues, is not “just the failure to remember; it is a positive, ‘ecstatic’ mode of having-been; a mode with a character of its own.” Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 312. 24. Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses,” 10. Here I am also using the translation in The Collective Memory Reader, ed. Jeffrey K. Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Serousssi, and Daniel Levy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 79. 25. Henry Tuckerman praised the 1867 painting: “The truth, unity and effect of this work are wonderful; examined through a tube, on a level with the eye, the illusion is complete to one familiar with the Falls.” Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life (New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1867), 386. The “tube” that Tuckerman refers to enabled visitors to focus more easily on specific details in the painting. Akin to rolling up a piece of paper and peering through, this was a less sophisticated, lens-less version of opera glasses, which will be discussed at greater length in the next chapter. 26. Gregory M. Pfitzer, Popular History and the Literary Marketplace, 1840–1920 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), 3, 4. Whereas the average print run had been 2,000 books early in the century, by mid-century 30,000 to 100,000 copies were routinely published. Ibid., 4. 27. Benson Lossing, “Art,” as cited in Independent Examiner, February 24, 1855, GA-28, Box 3, Lossing Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library, Premont, Ohio, quoted in Gregory M. Pfitzer, Picturing the Past: Illustrated Histories and the American Imagination, 1840– 1900 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2002), 43. Pfitzer notes that Lossing “always reserved his most exalted language for the power of engraving, a trade he viewed as both refined and democratic.” Ibid., 42. On Lossing, see Harold Mahan, Benson J. Lossing and Historical Writing in the United States, 1830–1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996). 28. Pfitzer, Picturing the Past, 50. 29. Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, 2 vols. (NewYork: Harper and Brothers, 1851), 1:iv.


30. Ibid., 1:iii, v. 31. For a discussion of “chorography” defined as “the tracing and describing of a particular region,” and in relation to cartography, see Edward S. Casey, Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 158, 229. 32. Maurice Samuels, The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 4–7. Samuels borrows the concept of a “memory crisis” from Richard Terdiman. 33. Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1991), 9. For one of the most important recent philosophical considerations of memory and history, see Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). On memory and landscape painting, see Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Knopf, 1995). 34. Benson J. Lossing, The National History of the United States, 2 vols. (New York: Edward Walker, 1855), 24. 35. Fredericka Bremer, The Homes of the New World, 2 vols. (London: Hall, Virtue, 1853), 2:588, quoted in Jeremy Elwell Adamson, “Nature’s Grandest Scene in Art,” in Adamson et al., Niagara: Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697–1901 (Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1985), 51. 36. McKinsey, Niagara Falls, 127. Niagara was made accessible by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the construction of railroads in the late 1830s and the 1840s. 37. Adamson, “Nature’s Grandest Scene in Art,” 11, 59, 61. For Niagara as a site of “landscape tourism” and Church’s key role in this, see Gail S. Davidson, “Landscape Icons, Tourism, and Land Development in the Northeast,” in Davidson et al., Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran:Tourism and the American Landscape (New York: Smithsonian Institution and Bulfinch Press, 2006), 3–22. For a cultural interpretation of tourism during this era, see John F. Sears, Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998). 38. Pierre Berton, Niagara: A History of the Falls (New York: Kodansha International, 1992), 87. 39. Dealer’s contract. Olana State Historic Site (OL.1998.1.19). 40. Church’s Painting of Nature’s Grandest Scene, n.p. The prospectus for the chromolithograph of Niagara also includes a subscription form. Subscribers included

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former President Millard Fillmore, journalist Charles Anderson Dana, and painter John F. Kensett. For the book of subscribers, see Olana State Historic Site (OL.2001.3696). 41. Adamson, “Nature’s Grandest Scene in Art,” 16. 42. “Church’s Niagara,” NewYork Observer and Chronicle, November 4, 1858, 44. 43. Among the many reviews to use the term “reproduction” were the New York Observer and Chronicle, which noted Church’s “astonishing reproduction,” and the New York Times, which described the painting as the Falls “reproduced on canvas.” Ibid., and “Church’s Niagara,” New York Times, May 21, 1857, 4. 44. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists, 375. Tuckerman attributes this to Church’s puritanical sensibility— the artist “exhibits the New England mind pictorially developed.” Ibid. 45. Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 9, 33, 241. 46. Ibid., 31. 47. Henry James, “The Madonna of the Future,” in Henry James: Complete Stories, 1864–1874 (New York: Library of America, 1999), 733–35. The Browning poem, “Pictor Ignotus” (1845), takes as its subject a monastic painter during the Renaissance who both devotes himself to his work and refuses to share it with the world outside his studio. 48. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 149. 49. James Jackson Jarves, The Art-Idea: Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture in America, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1864), 233. 50. Henry James, The American Scene (1907; repr., New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946), 131, quoted in Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 171. Levine notes that the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” were coming into use around this period and had clear racial connotations. “ ‘Highbrow,’ first used in the 1880s to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority, and ‘lowbrow,’ first used after 1900 to mean someone or something neither ‘highly intellectual’ or ‘aesthetically refined,’ were derived from the phrenological terms ‘highbrowed’ and ‘lowbrowed,’ which were prominently featured in the nineteenth-century practice of determining racial types and intelligence by measuring cranial shapes and capacities.” Ibid., 221–22. 51. “Certain is it that Church has achieved a great popular success in his tropical scenery, icebergs, and Niagaras,—

success which brings him orders for pictures as fast as he can produce them, at prices heretofore fabulous in his branch of art.” Jarves, The Art-Idea, 232. 52. Linda L. Revie, “The Wilds of Niagara: Constructions of the Falls in Fine Arts, Literary and Scientific Narratives, from Discovery through the Twentieth Century” (PhD diss., Boston College, 1998), 5. Elizabeth McKinsey devotes a chapter to the “honeymoon craze” at Niagara, noting that its origin is “difficult to pinpoint,” but “its remarkable persistence suggests a deepseated imaginative attraction that Niagara has held for newlyweds.” See McKinsey, Niagara Falls, 178–88. 53. M. E. W. [Mary Elizabeth Wilson] Sherwood, “Frederick [sic] E. Church: Studio Gatherings Thirty Years Ago—New York’s Former Bohemia,” New York Times, April 21, 1900, 4. 54. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 160. Levine notes that while chromolithographs were displayed with the “fine” arts in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, by the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago they had been demoted to “industrial” or “commercial” arts. Ibid. 55. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to E. D. Palmer, August 6, 1886. Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. Church wrote to MacLeod: “I am surprised and disgusted with the condition Oliver left it in— He cleaned off glazings and scumblings leaving portions in clots here and there—It was his duty to stop the instant he found he was disturbing the paint— Well, it leaves only one alternative—the repainting of the sky—which I am doing. . . . Of course I wish it to leave here in perfect condition.” FEC to William MacLeod, July 24, 1886. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 56. FEC to William MacLeod, August 28, 1886. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 57. FEC to Charles F. Olney, March 27, 1891. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. Church is apparently responding to Olney’s praise of his works. “Your flattering opinion of my works I greatly appreciate but I am conscious that I do not deserve such high commendation.” Ibid. 58. FEC to Dr. F. S. Barbarin, May 2, 1890. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection.

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c h a p t e r 2. sci e nc e a n d t h e c e l e s t i a l 1. On Church and Cyrus Field, see Albert Boime, The Magisterial Gaze: Manifest Destiny and American Landscape Painting, c. 1830–1865 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1991), 61–73. On Church’s South American travels, see Katherine Emma Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1989), as well as Manthorne, Creation and Renewal: Views of Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1985). A recent book also explores Church’s first trip to South America in depth: Pablo Navas Sanz de Santamaría, The Journey of Frederic Edwin Church through Colombia and Ecuador, April– October 1853 (Bogotá, Colombia: Villegas Editores and Universidad de los Andes, 2008). 2. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to William Osborn, September 29, 1869. Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. Osborn and Church were both members of the “Traveller’s Club,” an exclusive group of distinguished artists, writers, intellectuals, and power brokers who met in New York. Among the other members were Louis Agassiz, Henry Ward Beecher, Albert Bierstadt, William T. Blodgett (owner of The Heart of the Andes), Cyrus Field, Louis Legrand Noble, and Bayard Taylor. 3. For the intimate relationship between artists, including Church, and scientists during the mid-nineteenth century, see Rebecca Bedell, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). 4. Humboldt’s influence on Church has often been discussed. See, for example, Stephen Jay Gould, “Church, Humboldt, and Darwin: The Tension and Harmony of Art and Science,” in Franklin Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 94–107, revised and reprinted as “Art Meets Science in The Heart of the Andes: Church Paints, Humboldt Dies, Darwin Writes, and Nature Blinks in the Fateful Year of 1859,” in I Have Landed:The End of a Beginning in Natural History (New York: Random House, 2003), 90–109. David C. Huntington, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era (New York: G. Braziller, 1966), 41–42; Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly et al., Frederic Edwin Church, 54–55, 74–75; Franklin Kelly and Gerald L. Carr, The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845–1854 (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1987), 65, 75; Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American


Landscape and Painting 1825–1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 66–74. 5. Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe, trans. E. C. Otté, 5 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1849–58), 1:24. “Tropical nature,” as Nancy Leys Stepan argues, is an imaginative, modern construct that emerged in the nineteenth century with Humboldt. See Stepan, Picturing Tropical Nature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 11, 15. For a discussion of “tropicality” in a broader geographical, historical, and theoretical context, see Denis Cosgrove, “Tropic and Tropicality,” in Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, ed. Felix Driver and Luciana Martins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 197–216. For Humboldt’s influence in the Americas and on the visual arts in particular, see Georgia de Havenon, Christina De León, Alicia Lubowski-Jahn, and Gabriela Rangel, eds., Unity of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas (New York: Americas Society; Bielefeld, Westphalia: Kerber, 2014). 6. Humboldt, Cosmos, 1:48. 7. Humboldt, Cosmos, 2:452–54. 8. John Davis, The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 199. 9. Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, “Noon in the Tropics,” Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Years 1799–1804, trans. Thomasina Ross, 3 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1852), 1:199. This is the edition that Church owned. 10. For Wolf’s discussion of “dematerialization,” see his “On First Looking at Frederic Church’s The Andes of Ecuador (And Then Looking Some More),” Orion: A Nature Quarterly 7, no. 4 (September 1988): 22. Wolf elsewhere argues that The Andes of Ecuador, with its cross of light, creates an Emersonian image of the “egotistical sublime”—negating the natural world and rewriting it as the self. Wolf, “When Is a Painting Most Like a Whale?: Ishmael, Moby-Dick, and the Sublime,” in New Essays on Moby-Dick, ed. Richard H. Brodhead (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 141–79. 11. Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1867), 378. 12. Theodore Winthrop, A Companion to The Heart of the Andes (New York: D. Appleton, 1859), 14. 13. “National Academy of Design,” Home Journal, June 13, 1857, 2, quoted in Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly et al., Frederic Edwin Church, 50.

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14. Thomas Cole to Asher B. Durand, January 4, 1838, repr. in Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, N. A., 3rd ed. (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, 1856), 248. 15. Humboldt, Cosmos, 3:9. Aaron Sachs describes Humboldt’s “literary strategy of portraying humanity as overwhelmed by nature” as “simply an extreme expression of the Romantic Sublime: trepidation leads to inspiration.” Sachs, The Humboldt Current: NineteenthCentury Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism (New York: Viking, 2006), 43. 16. Church wrote to his friend Bayard Taylor, the diplomat and popular travel writer, to explain that the “principle motive in taking the picture to Berlin is to have the satisfaction of placing before Humboldt a transcript of the scenery which delighted his eyes sixty years ago— and which he had pronounced to be the finest in the world.” FEC to Bayard Taylor, May 9, 1859. Bayard Taylor Correspondence, Letters to Taylor, Box A–Cr. Letter #1, Cornell Regional Archives, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. Many writers at the time understood Church’s ambitions to be Humboldtian. 17. See Gould, “Church, Humboldt, and Darwin,” 94–107, and Gould, “Art Meets Science,” 90–109. 18. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859; repr., New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004), 72. 19. Ibid., 96. 20. Gillian Beer. Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 3, 102, 103. 21. Darwin, Origin, 61. 22. William M. Bryant, Philosophy of Landscape Painting (St. Louis: St. Louis News, 1882), 263. Church owned a copy of this book, which was inscribed and sent to him by Bryant. 23. Thoreau, Journal, October 18, 1860, repr. in Material Faith: Thoreau on Science, ed. Laura Dassow Walls (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1999), 109. Both Darwin and Thoreau were interested in the violent struggle that characterizes the creation of life in the natural world. Thoreau delights in it in Walden: “I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp,—tadpoles which herons gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in

the road; and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood!” Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; repr., New York: Penguin, 1999), 252. Darwin, in a similar passage, unmasks the destruction that we might like to “forget”: “We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey.” Darwin, Origin, 61. 24. Charles Darwin to J. S. Henslow, May 18, 1832, quoted in Alan Moorehead, Darwin and the Beagle (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 57. 25. Church, of course, owned Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Years 1799–1804. The other book that Darwin named as influential was J. F. W. Herschel’s Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy. See Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, 1902), 23. 26. Church, however, did own a couple of Alfred Russel Wallace’s books on evolution, among them Natural Selection and Tropical Nature: Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology (1891)—an edition combining two volumes of essays originally published in 1870 and 1878, respectively—and the Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876). Church’s library also includes volumes by scientists like Asa Grey who shared Darwin’s ideas as well as a celebratory biography of Darwin by Grant Allen. 27. Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., “Worthington Whittredge, Landscape Painter,” Outlook, July 2, 1904, 533. 28. I am indebted to Lawrence Kelly, Director of Graduate Studies at the New York Botanical Garden, for his help in identifying plants in the painting. In this lower left area, Kelly identified a bromeliad growing on the dead tree trunk and possibly Brunellia in the corner—an unbranched shrub with compound leaves. Throughout this chapter I will use his speculations as to the genus represented. Correspondence with the author, July 10–18, 2014. 29. FEC to his father, Joseph Church, May 16, 1853. Henry Francis Dupont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 30. “Sketchings: The Heart of the Andes,” Crayon 6 (June 1859): 193. 31. Times (London), July 27, 1859, repr. as “The Heart of the Andes in London,” New York Times, August 12, 1859,

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3. The Times article was also reprinted in The Living Age, October 8, 1859, 122–23. 32. “The Exhibition of Pictures at the Metropolitan Fair,” New-York Daily Tribune, April 9, 1864, 12. 33. Pierre M. Irving, The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, 4 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1864), 4:288– 89, quoted in David C. Huntington, “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826–1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth” (PhD diss.,Yale University, 1960), 5. 34. William James Stillman, “Exhibition of the National Academy: First Article,” Crayon 3 (April 1856): 117. 35. J. Eliot Cabot, “On the Relation of Art to Nature,” Atlantic Monthly 13 (February 1864): 183. 36. Janice Simon, “The Crayon 1855–1861: The Voice of Nature in Criticism, Poetry, and the Fine Arts” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1990), 16. 37. James Jackson Jarves, The Art-Idea: Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture in America, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin), 13–14. 38. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 3rd ed. (London: John Murray, 1861), 85. This sentence, part of a longer passage attempting to justify the use of the (metaphorical) term “Natural Selection,” was added to the third edition. 39. Herbert Hovenkamp, Science and Religion in America 1800–1860 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), x. 40. Louis Agassiz, An Essay on Classification (1857; repr., London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, and Trübner, 1859), 205. 41. For Agassiz’s solipsistic and increasingly outdated mode of natural history post-Darwin, as seen through the eyes of William James, who accompanied the scientist to Brazil in 1861, see Christophe Irmscher, The Poetics of Natural History: From John Bartram toWilliam James (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999), 236–82. 42. Hovenkamp, Science and Religion, x. 43. Ibid., x, xi. 44. For Darwin and the debates about evolution, see Janet Browne’s two-volume biography: Charles Darwin: Voyaging (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995) and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002). 45. For the connection between Church and Bushnell, see David C. Huntington, “Church and Luminism: Light for America’s Elect,” in John Wilmerding, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875 (Washington,


DC: National Gallery of Art; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989). As an adult, Church became close friends with Rev. Dr. George Washington Bethune, pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church in Brooklyn and an outspoken anti-slavery Democrat. Bethune counseled Church on buying the land on which the artist would build Olana. Diane Apolstolos-Cappadona, The Spirit and the Vision: The Influence of Christian Romanticism on the Development of 19th-Century American Art (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), 172. 46. Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural, as Together Constituting One System of God (1858; repr., London: Richard D. Dickinson, 1880), iv, 5, 15. Church did not own this particular book by Bushnell, but he did have the very popular volume Sermons for the New Life (1858) in his library. Bushnell’s essential claim was that the basis of spiritual truth was feeling and intuition rather than dogmatic, deductive logic. 47. “Fine Art Exhibitions,” New York Herald (December 5, 1859), 6. 48. This is the phrasing (and recollection) of the author of an article entitled “Rocky Point Miller’s Bluff,” California Weekly Mercury: A Journal of Romance and Literature 1 (October 27, 1867). My thanks to Glenn Willumson for drawing my attention to this reference. 49. T. L. C. [Theodore Ledyard Cuyler], “Church’s ‘Heart of the Andes,’ ” Christian Intelligencer, June 2, 1859, repr. in Living Age, July 2, 1859, 64. 50. “Church’s Heart of the Andes,” Russell’s Magazine 5 (August 1859): 427. 51. Rev. Dr. Richard Newman, “Introduction to a Sermon on the Character of Abigail, wife of David, Preached in St. Paul’s Ch. Philadelphia.” Enclosed in a letter from Richard T. Miller to FEC, March 15, 1860. Olana State Historic Site.

c h a p t e r 3. na r r ati v e lux ury 1. On April 27, 1859, the painting was unveiled to a private audience of five hundred invited guests at Lyric Hall on Broadway. The first venue suffered from poor lighting conditions, and the picture remained at Lyric Hall for only one day. It was promptly moved to the Exhibition Room in the Tenth Street Studio Building. In the few short weeks that the picture was on view, five hundred visitors a day came to see it, and two thousand packed the exhibition hall on the final day. Kevin J. Avery, “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’ Exhibited: Frederic E. Church’s Window on the Equatorial World,” American Art Journal 18, no. 1 (Winter 1986): 52–54. This article,

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along with Avery’s short book, Church’s Great Picture: The Heart of the Andes (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993), are both invaluable sources for the painting’s exhibition history and the broader cultural context of such display. 2. “Frederic Edwin Church: Noted Artist Native of Hartford, Dead,” Hartford Daily Courant, April 9, 1900, 4. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. 3. The picture was dramatically lit by gas lamps during the evening or by a skylight during the day. The critics tended to dislike Church’s use of artificial lighting, and natural light was used more often for later exhibitions of the painting. Avery, “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’ Exhibited,” 53–55. 4. Kevin Avery was the first to reproduce the advertisement announcing the exhibition at the Boston Athenæum. Avery, Church’s Great Picture, 35. The first recommendation to bring opera glasses to view Church’s painting was in a notice for the exhibition in the NewYork Herald (May 19, 1859, 4), which notes that with opera glasses “the details of perspective will . . . be clearly brought out.” As the painting traveled to other cities, notices continued to make the recommendation. A writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune (January 17, 1861, 1) found that the spectator “needs the glass to bring distant objects within the range of vision.” The Boston Transcript (December 15, 1859, 2) commented that “an opera glass is of great advantage in looking at this picture.” See Avery, “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’ Exhibited,” 70 n.45, 71 n.46, 72 n.84. 5. Samuel L. Clemens to Orion Clemens, March 18, 1861, repr. in Mark Twain’s Letters, Volume 1: 1853–1866, ed. Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael B. Frank, and Kenneth M. Sanderson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 117. Twain’s letter is quoted in Avery, Church’s Great Picture, 43–44. Twain would later become friends with Church and would visit him at Olana. 6. Ibid. 7. William M. Bryant, Philosophy of Landscape Painting (St. Louis: St. Louis News, 1882), 265.

11. Didi-Huberman, Confronting, 233. 12. Theodore Winthrop, A Companion to The Heart of the Andes (New York: D. Appleton, 1859), 12–13. 13. Ibid., 4, 5, 7, 17. For the close relationship between Winthrop and Church during this period and a compelling reading of The Heart of the Andes in relation to Winthrop’s novel Cecil Dreeme (1861), see David Peters Corbett, “Art, Morality, and the National Interest: Theodore Winthrop, Frederic Church, and Martin Johnson Heade at the Tenth Street Studios in 1859,” European Journal of American Studies 30, no. 2 (June 2011): 57–72. 14. The Boston Transcript called Winthrop’s forty-threepage essay “an interesting example of ‘word-painting.’ ” “Church’s ‘Heart of the Andes,’ ” Boston Transcript, May 5, 1909. Olana State Historic Site (OL.2000.396). Copy also in the Olana Research Collection. The article announced the bequest of the painting by Margaret Dows to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15. The Diary of George Templeton Strong, ed. Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 2:450, quoted in John K. Howat, Frederic Church (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005), 83. 16. Ruskin to Susan Beever, August 25, 1874, repr. in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. (London: George Allen, 1903–12), 37:136. In the first volume of Modern Painters, Ruskin distinguishes between “language” in a work of art, which he associates with what is “ornamental” and “decorative” and therefore “a totally inferior excellence,” and “thought,” which he defines as the expression of “noble” ideas (3:89–90). Language, in these terms, implies a lack of direct communication and an over-articulation of surface detail. But it is language that Ruskin himself adores, despite his warnings against it. His descriptions of Turner’s landscapes are a tour de force of ekphrastic writing. 17. Winthrop, Companion, 4, 6. 18. “A Great Painter Gone,” Boston Transcript, April 9, 1900. Olana State Historic Site (OL.2001.109). The article announced the death of Church and devoted a full paragraph to Winthrop’s booklet.

8. Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 229.

19. Winthrop, Companion, 22 (emphasis added).

9. Ibid., 230.

21. Ibid., 6.

10. Gaston Bachelard, Essai sur la connaissance approchée (Paris: Vrin, 1927), quoted in Didi-Huberman, Confronting, 232.

20. Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, Church’s Painting: The Heart of the Andes (New York: D. Appleton, 1859), 4, 6. 22. Ibid., 9, 11, 15, 16–17, 21, 23. 23. Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (1987; repr., New York: Routledge, 2007), xlv.

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24. Noble, Church’s Painting, 9. 25. Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 141, 143. Naomi Schor, in her analysis of “The Reality Effect,” writes about Barthes’s own relationship to detail and the question of insignificance. “What is at stake is nothing less than the legitimacy of the organic model of literary interpretation, according to which all details—no matter how aberrant their initial appearance—can, indeed must be integrated into the whole, since the work of art is itself organically constituted. To accredit the existence of a truly inessential detail, to make of it a distinctive trait of ordinary Western narrative is tantamount to attacking the foundation of hermeneutics which is constantly engaged in shuttling between the part and the whole. Worse: to privilege the insignificant detail is to practice a sort of decadent criticism, to promote a poor management of linguistic capital.” Schor, Reading in Detail, 100–101. 26. Guy Jordan’s dissertation explores a new form of aesthetic absorption—both visual and corporeal—during the antebellum period in the United States. I am grateful to him for suggesting that we exchange our work. Our analyses of The Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs often overlap, albeit to different ends. For Jordan, The Heart of the Andes “registers and ultimately seeks to resolve the epistemic conflict between rational and emotional modes of cognition that lay at the ‘heart’ of American romanticism.” Church’s painting, Jordan argues, presumes “a passive, non-thinking, purely corporeal subject” by “doing all the work and leaving nothing to the imagination.” I disagree with this point, but find Jordan’s larger claims about the painting’s engagement in an “aesthetics of intoxication” during this period very convincing. Jordan, “The Aesthetics of Intoxication in American Art and Culture” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2007), 187, 233. 27. Noble, Church’s Painting, 16. 28. “Art: The Heart of the Andes,” Atlantic Monthly 4 (July 1859): 128. 29. Janice Simon, “The Crayon 1855–1861: The Voice of Nature in Criticism, Poetry, and the Fine Arts” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1990), 76, 236. 30. Henry James, “On Some Pictures Lately Exhibited,” Galaxy 20 (July 1875): 89–97, repr. in American Art 1700–1960: Sources and Documents, ed. John W. McCoubrey (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 168. 31. Adam Badeau, “Pre-Raphaelitism,” in The Vagabond (New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1859), 236–37.


32. Jackson Lears, “Beyond Veblen: Rethinking Consumer Culture in America,” in ConsumingVisions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880–1920, ed. Simon J. Bronner (Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum; NewYork:W.W. Norton, 1989), 82. 33. Badeau, “American Art,” in TheVagabond, 125. 34. “Fine Arts: National Academy of Design, Second Notice,” Albion, May 2, 1863, 213. 35. James Jackson Jarves, Art Thoughts (1869), ed. H. Barbara Weinberg (New York: Garland, 1976), 299, quoted in Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825–1875 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 71. 36. Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Chimney Corner (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1868), 246, quoted in Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade (New York: Penguin, 2008), 47–48. Benfey notes that Stowe had a print of Church’s painting A Morning in the Tropics (1877) on her wall “for inspiration.” Ibid., 151. 37. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836), in Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (New York: Penguin, 1982), 49. 38. Walt Whitman, “Of the Terrible Question of Appearances,” in Leaves of Grass (Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860), 352–53. This poem appeared for the first time in this third edition of Leaves of Grass. In the next edition (1867), Whitman changed the poem’s title to “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances,” as if to “question” was no longer sufficient. This is the title that has been used since. 39. Whitman, “Long I Thought that Knowledge,” in Leaves of Grass, 354. 40. “Art: The Heart of the Andes,” Atlantic Monthly 4 (July 1859): 129. 41. Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851–1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 2. A review of The Heart of the Andes appeared in the same issue of Harper’s Weekly (May 7, 1859) as did the first chapter of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. 42. “Art: The Heart of the Andes,” 129. 43. Bill Brown has examined the idea of things in American literature from a slightly later period (the 1890s), considering how authors like Twain and James negotiate “the slippage between having (possessing a particular object) and being (the identification of one’s self with that object).” Brown, A Sense of Things:The Object Matter

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of American Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 13. 44. Whitman, “City of My Walks and Joys,” in Leaves of Grass, 363. 45. Lears, “Beyond Veblen,” 76–77. For the relationship between artists’ studios and department store window displays during the Gilded Age, see the second chapter of Sarah Burns, Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in the Gilded Age (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1996). 46. Angela Miller notes that “in such spaces as the department store, replete with exotica and historical fantasies, American identity was being redefined around private acts of acquisition and possession.” Miller, “Everywhere and Nowhere: The Making of the National Landscape,” American Literary History 4, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 209. On department stores, consumer vision, and literary form, see Rachel Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola (New York: Methuen, 1985). Later in the century, reactions against these new modes of display and consumption also became visible. David M. Lubin discusses how William Harnett’s tromple l’oeil paintings contend with the depersonalization and feminization of the new consumer economy. Lubin, Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1994), 273–319. 47. Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830–1870 (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1982), 153. 48. The Cast Iron Palace would later reopen as Wanamaker’s when the celebrated Philadelphia-based store purchased the building in 1896. For more on A. T. Stewart’s department store and others in New York, see John William Ferry, A History of the Department Store (New York: Macmillan, 1960); William R. Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1993); Winston Weisman, “Commercial Palaces of New York: 1845– 1875,” Art Bulletin 36, no. 4 (December 1954): 285–302. 49. Thomas Richards argues that, during the mid-nineteenth century, “the commodity became the living letter of the law of supply and demand” while spectacle and capitalism “became indivisible.” Richards begins his study with a chapter on the largest display of commodities the world had ever seen: the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851—“the first world’s fair, the first department store, the first shopping mall.” Richards, Commodity Culture, 2, 16, 17.

50. The retail corridor dubbed the “Ladies’ Mile” was on Broadway and Sixth Avenue between 9th and 23rd Streets. 51. “Editorial Notes—New England Engravings,” Putnam’s Monthly 6 (September 1855): 328. 52. “A Visit to the ‘Heart of the Andes,’ ” Spirit of the Times, November 26, 1859, 500, quoted in Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 57. 53. For a discussion of the sale to William T. Blodgett, see Avery, Church’s Great Picture, 34. 54. “Memory Pictures,” Southern Literary Messenger 30 (January 1860): 29. 55. Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass (Brooklyn, NY: 1855), 37. The ellipses are his. These lines appeared in this first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass and then in all subsequent editions. Whitman designed and published this edition of Leaves of Grass himself; the book was printed in the shop of Andrew Rome in Brooklyn. 56. Henry Ward Beecher, “Object Lessons,” in Eyes and Ears (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862), 246. 57. Katherine Manthorne discusses the connection between The Heart of the Andes and an increased consciousness of Latin America in the second chapter of Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1989). For the relationship between the politics of Church’s paintings and the Civil War, see Angela Miller, Empire of the Eye, especially chapters 3, 5, and 6; Joni L. Kinsey, “History in Natural Sequence: The Civil War Polyptych of Frederic Edwin Church,” in Redefining American History Painting, ed. Patricia M. Burnham and Lucretia Hoover Giese (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 158–73; and Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Civil War and American Art (Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2012). 58. See, for example, the review in Harper’s: “Your eye wanders over the teeming richness of the scene, clings to the tangling luxuriance of the foliage . . . [while] the mind is refreshed with a more satisfactory sense of the opulence and resources of nature.” “Church’s Heart of the Andes,” Harper’s Weekly, May 7, 1859, 291. Two months later, the writer for Harper’s Monthly described “the right foreground, [where] the eye revels in the rich heart of the summer, tangled in a maze of tropical luxuriance.” “Editor’s Easy Chair,” Harper’s New Monthly

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Magazine 19 (July 1859): 271. Across the Atlantic, the London Times noted the “luxuriant greenery.” Quoted in “The Heart of the Andes in London,” New York Times, August 12, 1859, 3. 59. W. P. Bayley, “Mr. Church’s Pictures. ‘Cotopaxi,’ ‘Chimborazo,’ and ‘The Aurora Borealis.’ Considered Also with Reference to English Art,” Art Journal (London) 4 (September 1, 1865): 264. 60. “Pen, Pallet, and Piano,” Continental Monthly (January 1863), repr. in Albion, January 3, 1863, 1. 61. “The Exhibition of Pictures at the Metropolitan Fair,” New-York Daily Tribune, April 9, 1864, 12. 62. Walt Whitman, “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing,” in Leaves of Grass (1855; repr., New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1897), 105–6. 63. The cover of the sheet music includes a lithograph based on a sketch by Church, Andean Snow Peak (c. 1861–62). Gerald Carr made this connection and ascribed the title and date to the sketch. My thanks to Valerie Balint for bringing this to my attention. 64. Robert Offergeld, “The Music of Democratic Sociability,” liner notes for The Wind Demon and Other Mid19th-Century Piano Music, with Ivan Davis (New York: New World Records, 1976). Offergeld calls Warren’s piece “polemical.” 65. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to George William Warren, June 29, 1857, Gratz Collection, Pennsylvania Historical Society, quoted in Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance, 102. 66. “Pen, Pallet, and Piano,” 1. 67. Avery, “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’ Exhibited,” 57. 68. “Fine Arts: An Innovation,” Albion, April 30, 1859, 213. P. T. Barnum’s American Museum was about two miles down Broadway from Church’s studio. Church’s agent, John McClure, whose task it was to oversee the exhibition and transportation of Church’s “Great Pictures,” had more practical concerns. “I hope you won’t have such a frame as the ‘Andes’[;] the cost of transportation of fitting up and the time it takes mounts up fearfully. I can’t help hoping gold will do best for the ‘Icebergs.’ ” McClure to FEC, March 1, 1861. Olana State Historic Site. 69. “Sketchings: The Heart of the Andes,” Crayon 6 (June 1859): 194. David Huntington notes the painting’s “ ‘stereoscopic’ illusionism” which, with the aid of opera glasses, enabled the spectator “to become a bodiless eye exploring the landscape.” Huntington, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an


American Era (New York: G. Braziller, 1966), 52. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock argues that Church’s viewers “came with opera glasses because they had become accustomed to the binocular apertures of the stereoscope” and the “startling illusion of depth” that it provided. Lindquist-Cock, The Influence of Photography on American Landscape Painting, 1839–1880 (New York: Garland, 1977), 121. 70. “Church’s ‘Heart of the Andes,’ ” Saturday Review, September 10, 1859, repr. in Living Age, October 29, 1859, 318. 71. Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 295. For Crary’s argument about the stereoscope and the creation of modern vision, see his Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 116-36. 72. Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” Atlantic Monthly 3 (January 1859): 744. A lengthier discussion about the relationship between landscape painting, photography, and detail would constitute a separate study (or several). 73. Ibid., 745. 74. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 63. 75. Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” 745 (emphasis added).

c h a p t e r 4. unc erta i n pa ssag es 1. More than two dozen expeditions were launched from the United States during this “heyday” of Arctic exploration (1850–1910). For an account of the American fascination with the Arctic, see Michael Robinson, The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). 2. The North. Painted by F. E. Church, from Studies of Icebergs Made in the Northern Seas, in the Summer of 1859 (Boston: Prentiss and Deland, 1862). Olana State Historic Site (OL.1986.146). 3. “The Bostonian in New-York,” New-York Daily Tribune, May 12, 1861, 3. 4. “The North,” New York World, April 29, 1861, 5, quoted in Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Voyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church’s Arctic Masterpiece (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2002), 91. I am indebted to the work of Eleanor

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Jones Harvey and Gerald Carr on the critical reception of The Icebergs. 5. K. C., “Picture Galleries,” Christian Register (Boston), February 22, 1862, 26, quoted in Gerald L. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1980), 85. 6. For a discussion of the search for the Northwest Passage and the open polar sea during the mid-nineteenth century by Americans, see Robinson, The Coldest Crucible, 2–12, 15–29, 37–40. There are many other books that discuss nineteenth-century Arctic exploration including Martin W. Sandler, The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen’s Ghost Ship (New York: Sterling, 2006); Ann Savours, The Search for the North West Passage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999); and Pierre Berton, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909 (Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1988). 7. The report was reprinted in the New York Times, another testament to how closely the public followed news of Arctic exploration. “Second Grinnell Expedition: Dr. Kane’s Official Account of His Late Arctic Adventures, Important Scientific Discoveries,” New York Times, October 16, 1855, 2. 8. Matthew Maury, The Physical Geography of the Sea, and Its Meteorology (1855; repr., London: Sampson Low, Son, 1860), 219. Church owned a first edition of the book, which was the first comprehensive study of oceanography. Maury had earlier published articles on the natural resources and economic opportunities of the Amazon Valley. For these texts, which appeared in the National Intelligencer in 1852, and their expansionist claims, as well as the potential links to Church and Cyrus Field, see Albert Boime, The Magisterial Gaze: Manifest Destiny and American Landscape Painting, c. 1830–1865 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1991), 65–69, 70–71. 9. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 39, 41. Hayes also gave lectures at the American Geographical and Statistical Society in New York, where Church was a member. 10. Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes, The Open Polar Sea: A Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole, in the Schooner “United States” (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867), 354. For more on Hayes in the context of American Arctic exploration, see Robinson, Coldest Crucible, 55–68. For more on the relationship between Church and Hayes, see William H. Truettner, “The Genesis of Frederic Edwin Church’s Aurora Borealis,” Art Quarterly 31, no. 3 (Autumn 1968): 267–83. 11. Hayes, Open Polar Sea, xii.

12. “The ‘Heart of the Andes,’ ” Living Age, June 23, 1860, 759. 13. Carr also points out that the traveling frame for The Heart of the Andes appears to be the same frame now bordering The Icebergs. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 32 n.29. 14. For a discussion of Our Banner in the Sky and the particular importance of the flag following the Union’s humiliation at Fort Sumter, see Doreen Bolger Burke, “Frederic Edwin Church and ‘The Banner of Dawn,’ ” American Art Journal 14, no. 2 (Spring 1982): 39–46. 15. Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Civil War and American Art (Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2012), 35. 16. David Huntington, Franklin Kelly, and Angela Miller have all analyzed Twilight in the Wilderness, emphasizing its apocalyptic nature. Miller writes that the painting “preserves the ambiguity between a pre- and a postmillennialist reading of the war that inhered in contemporary commentary. . . . Church’s Twilight renders into natural terms this elision of end and beginning. . . . As both the origin and end of the American republic, nature, Church’s painting asserts, is the answer to the political problems of nationalism.” Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825–1875 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 129. 17. Harvey, Civil War, 34. Gerald Carr discovered the poem. For a reading of Church’s iceberg paintings in relation to racialized discourses of North and South, see Martin Berger, Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 68–72. 18. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 80. Harvey notes that the title was a “critical concession to current events,” although “curiously . . . few [critics] commented on the significance.” Harvey, Voyage, 61. 19. Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, “Among the Icebergs,” Independent (New York), May 2, 1861, 1. 20. These notices and articles often compared The North— even before its debut—to Niagara and The Heart of the Andes. Church’s Arctic painting was expected, from the beginning, to be his next masterpiece. For many of the preliminary notices, as well as reviews of the painting from New York, Boston, and London, see the extremely helpful appendix in Harvey, Voyage, 88–95. 21. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 80, 82. 22. I will assume, following Carr’s lead and for the purposes of my argument, that Church was the principal author of the broadside.

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23. M. C. A., “From New York. From Our Own Correspondent. New York, May 2,” Springfield Daily Republican, May 4, 1861, 1, quoted in Harvey, Voyage, 92. 24. “The North,” New York World, April 29, 1861, 5, quoted in Harvey, Voyage, 91. 25. Boston Daily Evening Transcript, May 27, 1861, 1, 2, quoted in Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 83. 26. Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 229. 27. “After Icebergs with a Painter,” Christian Examiner 72 (May 1862): 377. 28. “The Icebergs,” New-York Daily Tribune, April 24, 1861, 7. 29. Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 142–43. 30. One reviewer called Noble “another Ruskin in enthusiasm and feeling for beauty.” “After Icebergs with a Painter,” Christian Examiner 72 (May 1862): 368. 31. Michael Robinson notes that explorers were “the darlings of the world’s most powerful publishers, who fell over each other trying to secure rights to their stories . . . because stories, more than specimens or scientific observations, constituted the real currency of Arctic exploration.” Robinson, The Coldest Crucible, 3, 6. 32. “After Icebergs with a Painter,” Christian Examiner, 369.


(New York: D. Appleton, 1861), 28, 85. Hereafter, page numbers for Noble’s book will be noted parenthetically. 37. As quoted in Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 106. The Blanchot quotation is from Le livre à venir (Paris: Gallimard, 1959), 25. 38. Daniel Arasse, “La peinture au détail,” in Histoires de peintures (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 273. 39. Adam Phillips, Darwin’s Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories (New York: Basic, 2000), 45. 40. David C. Huntington, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era (New York: G. Braziller, 1966), 86. 41. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; repr., New York: Penguin, 1999), 254. 42. Sandler, Epic Search, 88. 43. Robinson, Coldest Crucible, 5, 9–12. 44. Ibid., 31–44, 87–109, 135–48. 45. “The spectator may imagine himself standing upon the foreground ice like one saved from a wreck,” the critic for the London Daily News wrote, “for at his feet there is the topmast and top with part of a torn sail, all that is left of some gallant ship crushed in the terrific charge of two of these floating mountains.” “Fine Arts: An Iceberg Picture,” Daily News (London), June 25, 1863, 3, quoted in Harvey, Voyage, 94, and Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 93.

33. Louis Agassiz, “The Formation of Glaciers,” in Geological Sketches (1865; repr., Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1866), 208. The essays in this volume were originally lectures that were then published in the Atlantic Monthly before being collected together as a book.

46. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or The Whale (1851; repr., New York: Penguin, 1988), 13–14.

34. Charles Darwin to Louis Agassiz, November 11, 1859, repr. in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 2 vols. (New York: D. Appleton, 1896), 2:11. Agassiz’s ice age theory was more generally correct, but would require many “Darwinian” reconceptualizations. In essence, the process was much messier and more multidimensional than Agassiz’s theory had allowed for. There was no neat way to tie together a place and its past. For an engaging history and explanation of the ice ages, see Doug Macdougall, Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

49. “Fine Arts: An Iceberg Picture,” 3.

47. Ibid., 14. 48. Ibid., 289. 50. “Fine Arts: A Painter among the Icebergs,” London Review, July 11, 1863, 49, quoted in Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs, 93. 51. Hayes, Open Polar Sea, 423. 52. Ibid.

35. “After Icebergs with a Painter,” Christian Examiner, 370.

53. As Timothy Mitchell argues in an article devoted to the subject, Church’s rock is “an index to one of the most controversial issues in the history of nineteenth-century geology.” Mitchell, “Frederic Church’s The Icebergs: Erratic Boulders and Time’s Slow Changes,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 3, no. 4 (Fall 1989): 4.

36. Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and around Newfoundland

54. For an overview of the debate, see Mitchell, “Frederic Church’s The Icebergs,” 12–18. For Darwin’s consider-

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ation of erratic boulders, see Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), 431–33, 440–41. 55. See Bryan Wolf’s reading of Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” passage and The Andes of Ecuador in “When Is a Painting Most Like a Whale?: Ishmael, Moby-Dick, and the Sublime,” in New Essays on Moby-Dick, ed. Richard H. Brodhead (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 151–54, 165–67. 56. “Fine Arts: Mr. Church among the Icebergs,” 213. A recent article on The Icebergs in the Wall Street Journal noted the abstract quality of the central iceberg, comparing it (favorably) to modernist painting: “Dead center is the primary mountainous mass, a sublime, almost abstract object. Looking closely at it, and at the other icy projections, you may think of the odd coloration inside any towering Richard Serra sculpture, or the jagged edges in the abstractions of Clyfford Still. And Church lays on his paint in ways that seem to predict Paul Cézanne.” Willard Spiegelman, “Frozen Sublimity, Luring Sky,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2012, C.13. 57. “We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship, / although it meant the end of travel.” Elizabeth Bishop, “The Imaginary Iceberg,” in North & South (1946), in Poems, Prose, and Letters, ed. Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz (New York: Library of America, 2008), 3–4. 58. That the painting does not conform to Romantic tropes is made slightly ironic by the fact that Noble and Church met Wordsworth’s nephew, who was a pastor on Battle Island, during their Arctic voyage. See Noble, After Icebergs, 156. 59. David C. Miller, “The Iconology of Wrecked and Stranded Boats in Mid to Late Nineteenth-Century American Culture,” in American Iconology: New Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature, ed. David C. Miller (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1993), 196, 206. Miller references The Icebergs, but does not specifically analyze it. Ibid., 207. 60. The comma in this phrase, which is omitted in Miller’s text, is critical. The pause that the punctuation provides expresses the uncertainty and caution with which Ishmael proceeds with his questions, even as his pace quickens and he gains a kind of wild philosophical velocity. 61. Melville, Moby-Dick, 211–12. 62. Robert Frost, “Desert Places,” in A Further Range (1936), in Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, ed. Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson (New York: Library of America, 1995), 269.

63. Michael T. Gilmore, Surface and Depth: The Quest for Legibility in American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 87–89. 64. The picture was put up for auction by the ThyssenBornemisza Collection (Lugano, Switzerland) in 2002 and has since been in three different private collections. It could not be located in time for reproduction. It was most recently reproduced in Gerald Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: Romantic Landscapes and Seascapes (New York: Adelson Galleries, 2007), 8, 35, 73. 65. Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” 142. 66. Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images, 235. 67. Ibid., 236. 68. Ibid. Bloch’s phrase, per Didi-Huberman’s note, is from Experimentum mundi, Question, catégories de l’élaboration, praxis, trans. G. Raulet (Paris: Payot, 1981), 14–15, 67, etc.

c h a p t e r 5. d e ta i ls of a bsenc e 1. Church produced one other large-scale painting from the trip, entitled The After Glow (1867; Olana State Historic Site). However, as Gerald Carr notes, this painting “presents a heavy, almost crusty appearance,” which is partly the result of the artist’s later and extensive retouching. For discussions of The After Glow, see Gerald L. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana State Historic Site, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 311–17; Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: In Search of the Promised Land (NewYork: Berry-Hill Galleries, 2000), 70; and Franklin Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 65–66. 2. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or The Whale (1851; repr., New York: Penguin, 1988), 212. 3. Ibid., 13. 4. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2003), 59, 62. Kornhauser writes that Church’s painting “embodied the spiritual nature of his journey to this island” and that the artist’s time in Jamaica represented the “pursuit of the renewal of hope.” Kornhauser, American Paintings Before 1945 in the Wadsworth Atheneum, vol. 1 (New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT:

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Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1996), 207. Kelly argues that the work is “suggestive of deeper spiritual meanings.” Kelly, “A Passion for Landscape,” in Kelly et al., Frederic Edwin Church, 65. 5. A tiny white building, possibly a church, is nearly hidden on one of the hilltops. Kornhauser, following David Huntington, states that “a tiny monastery is placed high on the horizon, overlooking the river, symbolic of divine presence in the tropics.” Kornhauser, American Paintings, 208.Yet the building is too small and too concealed to be the source of compelling symbolic significance. It is also unlikely that it is a monastery, since Jamaica’s Catholic population in the mid-nineteenth century was very small; the building, more likely, is a church or chapel, perhaps one associated with a particular plantation, or even built for the slaves on that plantation. I am grateful to Tim Barringer for pointing out this distinction. 6. J. Gray Sweeney compellingly argues that To the Memory of Cole “stands between the explicitly allegorical style of Cole’s later works—with their supernatural angelic inhabitants and providentially revealed luminous crosses—and Church’s completely naturalistic style of representing the divinity in American nature.” See J. Gray Sweeney, “ ‘Endued with Rare Genius’: Frederic Edwin Church’s To the Memory of Cole,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 2, no. 1 (Winter 1988): 60. 7. Thomas Cole, “The Burial Ground at Catskill,” in Thomas Cole’s Poetry, ed. Marshall B. Tymn (York, PA: Liberty Cap, 1972), 180. 8. Ibid. 9. Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Knopf, 1995), 205. 10. “Frederic Edwin Church: Noted Artist Native of Hartford, Dead,” Hartford Daily Courant, April 9, 1900, 4. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. 11. Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life (New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1867), 387. 12. On the “Jamaican picturesque” and Church’s reworking of the picturesque prospect, see Tim Barringer, “Picturesque Prospects and the Labor of the Enslaved,” in Barringer, Gillian Forrester, and Barbaro MartinezRuiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2007), 50, 60. 13. Studies of the English picturesque include Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape


Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989); Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition, 1740–1860 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); and Stephen Copley and Peter Garside, eds., The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Bermingham writes that “in artistic theory, the prospect . . . could aspire to what [Joshua] Reynolds deemed the ‘great style’ because it literally rose above the individual features of a specific view in order to embrace the general effect.” Bermingham, “System, Order, and Abstraction: The Politics of English Landscape Drawing around 1795,” in Landscape and Power, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 84. 14. E. L. Magoon, “Scenery and Mind,” in Washington Irving et al., The Home Book of the Picturesque; or, American Scenery, Art and Literature (1852; repr., Gainesville, FL: Scholar’s Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967), 7–8. 15. The picturesque eludes easy definition, and its complicated translation and adaptation into nineteenth-century American culture has been considered most widely by John Conron, American Picturesque (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000). It would seem that comprehension of the picturesque landscape was less explicitly dependent on, and expressive of, social class in the United States than it was in eighteenth-century England. 16. Uvedale Price, Essays on the Picturesque, 3 vols. (London: J. Mawman, 1810), 1:21–22. 17. Ibid., 1:344–45. 18. W. J. T. Mitchell, “Imperial Landscape,” in Mitchell, Landscape and Power, 10. 19. See Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700–1840 (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2008), and Geoff Quilley, “Pastoral Plantations: The Slave Trade and the Representations of British Colonial Landscape in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in An Economy of Colour: Visual Culture and the Atlantic World, 1660–1830, ed. Geoff Quilley and Kay Dian Kriz (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2003). 20. Karen O’Brien, “Imperial Georgic, 1660–1789,” in The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550–1850, ed. Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph P. Ward (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1999), 170, 173–76. 21. On Kidd’s lithographs, see Tim Barringer, “Emancipation and Its Aftermath, 1838–65: Kidd’s West Indian

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Scenery,” in Barringer, Forrester, and Martinez-Ruiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica, 524–29. 22. While the Emancipation Act was passed in 1834, an apprenticeship period delayed full freedom until 1838. As Kay Dian Kriz points out, “It was probably only when the end of slavery seemed assured that the island could be marketed as a picturesque and exotic locale.” Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement, 160. 23. Tim Barringer describes Kidd’s series of color lithographs as “lavishly produced” and notes that, with a price of £2 for each installment of five prints (with a total of ten parts), West Indian Scenery was “undoubtedly intended to appeal to wealthy planters and absentee proprietors.” Barringer, “Emancipation and Its Aftermath,” 524. 24. Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 215–18, 231– 32. 25. Kriz writes that Kidd’s lithographs “aestheticize the racial conflicts and political crises of Jamaica’s recent past.” Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement, 189. 26. Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 291. Carr notes that the Churches stayed first in “a hamlet called Bellevue situated on a hilltop five miles from Kingston” and then later at Galloway Hill, on the eastern part of the island. John Howat specifies that the Churches first lodged “at the suburban villa of Mr. Derbyshire” and then were “the guests of a Reverend Mr. Fyfe” at Galloway Hill. John K. Howat, Frederic Church (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005), 125, 127. 27. Horace Wolcott Robbins to his mother, Mary Eldredge Hyde Robbins, May 18, 1865. Collection of Mrs. Mary Rintoul, Madison, CT. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. Robbins had moved into the Tenth Street Studio Building, taking up residence in the studio right next to Frederic Church’s, about a year before they both departed for Jamaica. 28. Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement, 181. 29. Horace Wolcott Robbins to Mary Eldredge Hyde Robbins, May 18, 1865. 30. David C. Huntington, “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826–1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth” (PhD diss.,Yale University, 1960), 141. On the artist’s production in Jamaica and its reflection in Olana, see Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser and Katherine E. Manthorne, Fern Hunting among These Picturesque Mountains: Frederic Church in Jamaica (Hudson, NY: The Olana Partnership, 2010).

31. John Ruskin, “The Lamp of Memory,” in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. (London: George Allen, 1903–12), 8:236–37. Church owned a copy of The Seven Lamps of Architecture. 32. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859; repr., New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004), 384. 33. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to Charles de Wolf Brownell, March 24, 1879. Olana State Historic Site. My thanks to Ida Brier for her help with this passage. In a later letter to Brownell, Church compliments him for his balancing of details and larger effect—the very balance that Church was so often criticized for not achieving. “The sketch or picture rather is full of details and delicate modeling and yet it has unity and the real perspective is admirable—You don’t see that sort of thing much in modern landscape art.” FEC to Brownell, July 19, 1888. Olana State Historic Site. On the relationship between Church and Brownell, see Manthorne, Fern Hunting, 48–50. 34. FEC to Brownell, March 24, 1879. 35. Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, 1902), 60–61. 36. Gerald Carr notes that Church “temporarily abandoned” Rainy Season in the Tropics, which he calls the “most extravagantly optimistic painting” of Church’s career. The canvas’s “vision of promise,” Carr concludes, “had been prematurely twisted beyond recognition by tragedy.” Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 282. 37. Elizabeth Kornhauser was the first to propose a connection between the events in Jamaica and Church’s choice of subject matter. American Paintings, 208. 38. For extensive discussions of the Morant Bay Rebellion, see Gad J. Heuman, The Killing Time: The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994); Holt, The Problem of Freedom; and Bernard Semmel, The Governor Eyre Controversy (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1962). 39. For the relationship of the Eyre case to Victorian notions of race and class, see Howard W. Fulweiler, “The Strange Case of Governor Eyre: Race and the ‘Victorian Frame of Mind,’ ” Clio 29 (Winter 2000): 119–42, and Catherine Hall, “The Economy of Intellectual Prestige: Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and the Case of Governor Eyre,” Cultural Critique 12 (Spring 1989): 167–96.

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40. See Semmel, The Governor Eyre Controversy, 59–60, and Tim Watson, Caribbean Culture and British Fiction in the Atlantic World, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 157–60. 41. Semmel, The Governor Eyre Controversy, 22. 42. “The Jamaica Rebellion: Investigation by the Royal Commission—Extraordinary Cases of Cruelty,” New York Times, February 25, 1866, 6. According to the dateline, the article was filed from Kingston, Jamaica, on February 5, 1866. 43. “Emancipation in Jamaica II,” New York Times, February 3, 1860, 2. My thanks to Tim Barringer for sharing this article with me. 44. John Bigelow, Jamaica in 1850; or,The Effects of Sixteen Years of Freedom on a Slave Colony (1851; repr. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 80. By 1854 more than half the estates in St. Thomas in the Vale, the parish that Church’s painting depicts, had been abandoned. Before emancipation, St. Thomas in the Vale had been one of the most prosperous interior parishes in the country. Holt, The Problem of Freedom, 115. 45. Bigelow, Jamaica, 53, 70, 79, 80. 46. Ibid., 161. Bigelow proposed the radical idea of incorporating Jamaica as a free state and attacked the argument advanced by the Southern states that slavery brought vital economic benefits. Robert J. Scholnick, “Emancipation and the Atlantic Triangle: John Bigelow’s Jamaica in 1850,” introduction in Bigelow, Jamaica in 1850, xxix.Years before, when the Emancipation Act seemed certain to pass, the white English planters in Jamaica had proposed the opposite alliance: to join the United States as a slave territory or state. Heuman, The Killing Time, 36. Thus, the debate about Jamaica became a microcosm for the debate about slavery in the United States. 47. As historian Frederick Merk has argued, “Manifest Destiny . . . became, in the [eighteen] fifties, Caribbeanized.” Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation (New York: Knopf, 1963), 210, quoted in Katherine Emma Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1989), 52. 48. Bigelow, Jamaica, 10. 49. James Anthony Froude, The English in the West Indies, or, The Bow of Ulysses (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888), 306, quoted in Watson, Caribbean Culture, 4. 50. Krista A. Thompson, An Eye for the Tropics:Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 4, 67.


51. Barringer, “Picturesque Prospects and the Labor of the Enslaved,” 60. 52. Watson, Caribbean Culture, 160. 53. Barringer, “Picturesque Prospects and the Labor of the Enslaved,” 60–61. 54. For several generations, the Church, Colt, and Jarvis families shared prominent positions and close ties in Hartford, Connecticut. Elizabeth Colt had seen the art gallery at the 1864 New York Metropolitan Sanitary Fair and had soon developed her own plans for a private picture gallery for Armsmear. After being particularly impressed by Church’s The Heart of the Andes at the fair, she commissioned a major work from the artist. On Mrs. Colt and her gallery, see Kornhauser, American Paintings, 22–30, 207–10, and Kornhauser, “Daniel Wadsworth and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt: Collecting American Landscape Art in the Nineteenth Century,” in New World: Creating an American Art, ed. Ortud Westheider and Karsten Müller (Hamburg: Bucerius Kunst Forum; Munich: Hirmer, 2007), 34–39. 55. Samuel Colt vigorously sold arms to Southern states following John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, while also supplying the federal government with weapons. Accused of treason by the press after the Civil War broke out, Colt tried to prove his patriotism by raising and arming a full Union regiment. He died in the midst of the war in 1862. See William Hosley, Colt: The Making of an American Legend (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1996). 56. FEC to Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, September 13, 1866, quoted in Kornhauser, “Daniel Wadsworth and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt,” 27.

c h a p t e r 6. v erti c a l li g ht 1. Gerald L. Carr, “Frederic Edwin Church as a Public Figure,” in Carr and Franklin Kelly, The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845–1854 (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1987), 26. 2. John Davis notes that “in the decade following his trip, when most of his Eastern works were painted and exhibited, Church also saw a swift erosion of the celebratory critical consensus that, for the most part, had greeted his earlier New World paintings. While there was often unquestioned enthusiasm for these later works, more confused and mixed reactions became increasingly common as well. The questions he now asked of his material, the demands he made of his imagery, were no longer necessarily those of his

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audience.” Davis, The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 168. 3. “Fine Arts: The Academy Exhibition,” New York Times, April 6, 1874, 2. 4. For a wide-ranging history of Petra, see Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans, ed. Glenn Markoe (Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 13–14, 19–35, 112–31. Church and many of his contemporaries misinterpreted Petra’s history. The painter, in a letter to Palmer describing Petra, writes, “It is wonderful and yet for Centuries its very location was unknown—Who built it?—The Bible tells—It is Edom the inheritance of Esau.” Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to Erastus Dow Palmer, March 10, 1868. Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. 5. Markoe, Petra Rediscovered, 19–35, 112–15. The architectural details of the Khazneh are almost entirely Hellenistic, leading scholars to date it around a.d. 25, and therefore making it almost contemporaneous with the beginning of the Christian calendar. Abraham Negev, “Petra,” in Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, ed. Michael Avi-Yonah and Ephraim Stern, vol. 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 957. 6. FEC to Palmer, March 10, 1868. 7. Frederic Church, “Petra Diary,” February 24, 1868. Olana State Historic Site (OL.1985.1). 8. The monument’s name accounts for its “sadly battered condition. For centuries the local Bedouin believed that an evil Pharoah’s fabulous treasure was hidden in its central rotunda, and tried to liberate it by gunfire. Others objected to its graven images—its wealth of figural sculpture—which they systematically defaced.” Andrew Stewart, “The Khazneh,” in Markoe, Petra Rediscovered, 193. 9. In explaining this claim, Andrew Stewart writes: “Its stunning location apart, the rosettes that prominently embellish the podium of its upper story were a traditional symbol of Near Eastern royalty, and the eagles that crown it were adopted by the neighboring Ptolemaic kings of Egypt (330–322 b.c.) as their badge.” Stewart, “The Khazneh,”193.

13. Church, “Petra Diary,” February 24, 1868. FEC to William Osborn, April 1, 1868. Olana State Historic Site. 14. FEC to Osborn, April 1, 1868. 15. FEC to Palmer, March 10, 1868. 16. Church, “Petra Diary,” February 24, 1868. That day, Church wrote two entries about the risks of sketching: “I made a slight sketch—but our guide was much exercised thereby and made significant motions that it was unsafe [and] I might be fired at.” And later: “I sketched from a chink in my tent some of the rocks & tombs within sight in oil colors—I did this because I was fearful that I might be prevented by force from sketching and I was anxious to secure some studies in color.” 17. Ibid. 18. “Art Notes,” Appleton’s Journal 5 (June 10, 1871): 688, quoted in Davis, Landscape of Belief, 189. 19. Davis, Landscape of Belief, 189–92. 20. FEC to Osborn, April 1, 1868. 21. Davis, Landscape of Belief, 196. Davis argues for an erotic dynamic of desire and frustration at work in the painting’s constricted composition with the Bedouin figures in the foreground blocking the viewer’s access to the “release” beyond. Ibid. 22. FEC to Palmer, March 10, 1868. 23. Church, “Petra Diary,” February 24, 1868. 24. J. L. Porter, Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine, 1st ed., 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1858), 1:45. 25. Davis, Landscape of Belief, 196. 26. Alex Woloch, The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 39. 27. Porter, Handbook (1858), 1:47. 28. Ibid.

10. Ibid., 194.

29. Eleanor Jones Harvey emphasizes the importance of Church’s “lifelong predilection for labeling and describing parts of his drawings.” Such “memoranda,” she argues, “provide the most extensive commentary on the artist’s way of seeing and transcribing the world around him.” Harvey, The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature, 1830–1880 (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1998), 33.

11. Church, “Petra Diary,” February 20, 1868.

30. Porter, Handbook (1858), 1:48.

12. Stewart, “The Khazneh,” 194–98.

31. “Treasure and Crown,” Chicago Evening Journal, March 6, 1875. Copy in the Olana Research Collection.

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32. New York World, April 27, 1874, 5, quoted in Gerald L. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana State Historic Site, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 392. 33. New York Herald, April 20, 1874, 3, quoted in Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 393. 34. Carr points out the “giant primitive face that glowers dimly at the spectator, amplifying the human threat below.” Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 391. 35. “Art: The Latest Attraction at the Academy of Design, Church’s Picture of the City of Petra,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1875, 3. 36. “El-Khasne: The Rock-Cut Temple in Petra Arabia, A Noble Work of Art by the Great American Artist, F.A. [sic] Church,” Chicago Sunday Times, March 7, 1875, 15. 37. “Art in Gotham: Signs of Life in the National Academy of Design in New York,” Chicago Sunday Times, April 19, 1874, 12. The reviewer spends a scant paragraph on Church’s picture, his assessment ironically at odds with the article’s subtitle. 38. Porter, Handbook (1858), 1:48–49. 39. J. L. Porter, Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1875), 84. 40. Ibid., 90. 41. My sense of pastiche is informed by the work of Richard Dyer, who argues for imitation, recognition (which I interpret as a form of memory), and framing as central to the concept. See Dyer, Pastiche (London: Routledge, 2007). 42. Helen Vendler, “Melville and the Lyric of History,” in Herman Melville, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems (1866; repr., Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2001), 250–51. 43. Walter E. Bezanson, “Introduction,” in Herman Melville, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876; repr., New York: Hendrick House, 1960), ix–x. 44. Ibid., cix. 45. Melville, Clarel, 247. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid., 248. 48. Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 230. 49. Gaston Bachelard, Essai sur la connaissance approchée, quoted in Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images, 234.


50. Melville, Clarel, 248. 51. Ibid. 52. Melville, “America,” in Battle-Pieces, 163. Writing about Melville’s war poems, Helen Vendler observes that “the single grim detail, seen up close, can be as explanatory as the high vantage point and far focus of the roofperch.” But the detail is also often “severed from the whole that it explains.” Vendler, “Melville and the Lyric of History,” 265–66. 53. Church died in 1900 shortly after the painting’s completion, and the work was passed on to his children before coming into the collection of Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner, whose husband, an author and editor, had been a close friend of the artist. Charles Dudley Warner had begun a biography of the painter, which remained unfinished after both men’s deaths within months of each other. The painting was then given to the Wadsworth Atheneum. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, American Paintings before 1945 in the Wadsworth Atheneum, vol. 1 (New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1996), 214–16. For the unfinished biography with annotations by Debora Rindge, see Franklin Kelly, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989), 174–99. 54. David C. Huntington, “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826– 1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth” (PhD diss.,Yale University, 1960), 236. 55. We do not, unfortunately, know the circumstances of Church’s purchase of the Muybridge photograph. For Church’s photographic collection, see Thomas Weston Fels, Fire and Ice: Treasures from the Photographic Collection of Frederic Church at Olana (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; New York: Dahesh Museum of Art, 2002).

c h a p t e r 7. hor i zon li nes 1. Gerald L. Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana State Historic Site, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 387, 395. There is conflicting evidence about the exact circumstances of Church’s gift to his wife, Isabel. On New Year’s Eve of 1874, one newspaper noted that the painting “is owned by Mrs. Church, the wife of the artist, and we mention the fact so that the many enthusiastic admirers of the picture may know on whom to focus their envy.” Hudson Register, December 31, 1874. Copy in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. But two days earlier, in a letter to William Osborn, Church had expressed his

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desire to paint a picture for his wife. “I have desired occasionally to paint a good sized picture for her,” writes Church. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to William Osborn, December 27, 1874. Princeton University Library, Princeton, NJ. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. Written at least nine months after Church had finished El Khasné, Petra, this letter seems to indicate that the artist did not paint the Petra picture for Isabel, but rather decided to give it to her later, after it had been shown at the National Academy of Design and then at exhibitions in Chicago and New Haven. What does seem possible is that the painting did not immediately sell, and that this influenced his decision to present it to his wife. In Chicago, the painting was listed as “for sale,” although Carr claims that “the listing was probably in error.” Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 395. What is without doubt is that the painting was a meaningful gift from the artist to his wife, who had accompanied her husband to the Middle East, and had worried about him as he undertook the strenuous excursion to Petra without her. 2. James Anthony Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana: Architecture and Landscape as Art (Hensonville, NY: Black Dome, 2001), 42, 52. 3. Henry James, “On Some Pictures Lately Exhibited,” Galaxy 20 (July 1875): 89–97, repr. in American Art 1700–1960: Sources and Documents, ed. John W. McCoubrey (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 168. 4. Gerald L. Carr, Olana Landscapes: The World of Frederic E. Church (New York: Rizzoli, 1989), 2, and Carr, Catalogue Raisonné, 388, 395. Strabo also described Petra in Geography (16.4.21–26) as a beautiful, wealthy, urban center. Peter J. Parr, “The Origins and Emergence of the Nabataeans,” in Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans, ed. Glenn Markoe (Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 27. 5. FEC to Martin Johnson Heade, October 24, 1870, Box 1, Folder 2, Martin Johnson Heade Papers, 1853–1904, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. 6. FEC to Charles Dudley Warner, August 15, 1887. Olana State Historic Site. 7. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted to Board of Commissioners, May 12, 1863, quoted in Robert M. Toole, Historic Landscape Report: Olana State Historic Site (Hudson, NY: NewYork State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Friends of Olana, 1996), 1. Friends of Olana is now called The Olana Partnership. 8. FEC to Erastus Dow Palmer, October 18, 1884. Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library, Albany Insti-

tute of History and Art, Albany, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 9. Church designed and oversaw the building of the house between 1870 and 1872, adding a studio wing between 1888 and 1891. Today Olana encompasses an additional 123 acres, added during the twentieth century. See Carr, Olana Landscapes, 3, 4, 9, and Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, 17, 74. 10. Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, 29. 11. FEC to John Ferguson Weir, June 8, 1871. Weir Family Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, microfilm reel 530, frame 32. 12. For extensive discussions of Olana, see especially Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, and Carr’s Olana Landscapes and Catalogue Raisonné. 13. Maurice Sendak, interview with Sara Griffen, President of the Olana Partnership (2003), quoted in an e-mail to Olana members, “The Olana Partnership Remembers Maurice Sendak,” May 10, 2012. 14. Samuel F. B. Morse, Lectures on the Affinity of Painting and the Other Fine Arts, ed. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983), 50–51, quoted in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 15. 15. Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 61. 16. For a detailed discussion of Olana’s roads, see Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, 58, 60–61; Carr, Olana Landscapes, 151–52; and the extensive discussions in Toole, Historic Landscape Report. 17. See caption for figure 52 in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, n.p. 18. Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, 17, 18. The Churches moved into their “modest rural cottage” in May or June of 1861. The house remains intact, but Church’s first studio does not. 19. Rev. Francis N. Zabriskie, “ ‘Old Colony’ Papers: An Artist’s Castle, and Our Ride Thereto,” Christian Intelligencer, September 10, 1884, 2. 20. John Conron, American Picturesque (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 175. He quotes from the first, 1841, edition of Andrew Jackson Downing, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America. 21. David C. Huntington, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era (New York: G. Braziller, 1966), 116. 22. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; repr., New York: Penguin, 1999), 149.

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23. Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 86. 24. Martin Price, “The Picturesque Moment,” in From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented to Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 277, 279. 25. Ibid., 276. 26. Conron, American Picturesque, xvii–xviii. 27. Andrew Jackson Downing, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening Adapted to North America, 4th ed. (New York: George Putnam, 1851), 44, 74–75. Toole discusses Downing at length in relation to Olana. See Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 16–23. 28. Frederick Law Olmsted to Charles Loring Brace, November 24, 1871. Frederick Law Olmsted Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, quoted in Laura Wood Roper, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 331. The Central Park Commission was not merely a ceremonial post; Church felt so burdened by the responsibilities that he sought to step down early from his five-year appointment, which had been made by the mayor of New York City, after just two years. 29. “The art of the landscape gardener has been employed not so much to render Olana beautiful as to make it picturesque.” Frank J. Bonnelle, “In Summer Time on Olana,” Boston Sunday Herald, September 7, 1890, 17. 30. Vincent Scully, “Palace of the Past,” Progressive Architecture 46 (May 1965): 185, 189. 31. Zabriskie, “ ‘Old Colony’ Papers,” 2. 32. James Thrall Soby, “The Fine Arts: Iron Lungs for Genius,” Saturday Review of Literature, January 1, 1948. 33. See Evelyn D. Trebilcock and Valerie A. Balint, Glories of the Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church’s Views from Olana (Hudson, NY: The Olana Partnership; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), 78–79. 34. FEC to Erastus Dow Palmer, October 18, 1884. 35. Samuel L. Clemens to Orion Clemens, March 18, 1861, repr. in Mark Twain’s Letters, Volume 1: 1853–1866, ed. Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael B. Frank, and Kenneth M. Sanderson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 117.


Press, 1996), 159–60. For Smithson’s engagement with history as a defining aspect of his praxis, see Jennifer L. Roberts, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2004). 39. Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted,” 164, 170. 40. Moira Ross, “An Interview with Robert Smithson” (1973), in Robert Smithson, ed. Eugenie Tsai and Cornelia Butler (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004), 88. 41. Henry David Thoreau, Journal, October 18, 1860, repr. in Material Faith: Thoreau on Science, ed. Laura Dassow Walls (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1999), 109. 42. David Lowenthal, “Introduction,” in George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), ix. See also Marsh, So Great a Vision: The Conservation Writings of George Perkins Marsh, ed. Stephen C. Trombulak (Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College Press, 2001); Lowenthal, George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000). 43. Lowenthal, “Introduction,” xxi–xxii. 44. George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature, or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864), iii, 10. 45. For a discussion of this title, see Lowenthal, “Introduction,” xxiii–xxiv. 46. Marsh, Man and Nature, 55. 47. Most of Marsh’s book is devoted to surveying the damage and suggesting the remedies: afforestation, erosion controls, responsible irrigation, legal protection, and, above all, general education. 48. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859; repr., New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004), 61, 70. 49. Marsh, Man and Nature, 41. 50. Darwin, Origin, 384. 51. Marsh, Man and Nature, 44. 52. Ryan, Frederic Church’s Olana, 58. 53. FEC to William Osborn, July 29, 1869. Olana State Historic Site.

36. Ibid.

54. Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 93.

37. Zabriskie, “ ‘Old Colony’ Papers,” 2.

55. Huntington, The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 123.

38. Robert Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape,” Artforum 11, no. 6 (February 1973), repr., in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California

56. Carr, Olana Landscapes, 152. 57. For the types of trees that Church planted, see Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 40, 86.

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58. Marsh, Man and Nature, 316. 59. Ibid., 312–13. 60. Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism (New York: Viking, 2006), 96. 61. Marsh, Man and Nature, 8. 62. Theodore Cole, diary entry, February 28, 1968. Vedder Memorial Library, Greene County Historical Society, Coxsackie, NY, quoted in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 27. 63. FEC to Joseph Church, May 13, 1864, quoted in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 40. 64. Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 95. 65. FEC to Theodore Church, July 28, 1865, quoted in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 46. 66. Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 59–60. 67. FEC to Erastus Dow Palmer, June 22, 1875, quoted in Toole, Historic Landscape Report, 59. 68. FEC to Erastus Dow Palmer, August 16, 1885, Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 69. Jennifer L. Roberts places questions of movement, materiality, and temporality at the center of her study of images in early America, offering a new mode of art historical inquiry, “a highwayman’s art history.” See Roberts, Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014). 70. Quoted in Jane Curtis, Peter Jennison, and Frank Lieberman, Frederick Billings: Vermonter, Pioneer Lawyer, Business Man, Conservationist (Woodstock, VT: Woodstock Foundation, 1986), 70. 71. On Billings, see Robin W. Winks, Frederick Billings: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). I thank Kimia Shahi for bringing the Marsh-BillingsRockefeller National Historical Park to my attention. 72. Frederick Billings to FEC, February 20, 1880. Olana State Historic Site. 73. FEC to Julia Parmly Billings, October 17, 1881. Billings Mansion Archives, Woodstock, VT. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 74. FEC to Frederick Billings, November 9, 1881. Billings Mansion Archives. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection. 75. FEC to Julia Parmly Billings, December 12, 1881. Billings Mansion Archives. Transcript in the Olana

Research Collection. The Billingses were gracious throughout, and clearly pleased that Church, whom they considered a dear friend, was undertaking a painting for them. “I beg to add my grateful appreciation of the special interest you have taken in the work,” wrote Frederick Billings to Church, “and dear to us as the picture will be for its own sake it will be all the more dear because in it we shall always see you, whom we love—and when I say you I mean Mrs. Church too.” Frederick Billings to FEC, February 10, 1881. Olana State Historic Site. 76. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2003), 64–66. The Billingses were pleased with the final painting. 77. David C. Miller, Dark Eden: The Swamp in NineteenthCentury American Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 165. 78. Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted,” 157, 158, 165. 79. Robert Smithson, Letter to John Dixon, repr. in Flam, Robert Smithson, 377. 80. Thoreau, Walden, 179. 81. FEC to Charles F. Olney, November 30, 1896. Olana State Historic Site. Olney was, among many things, one of the founders of the New York Teachers’ Association, a member of the National Geographic Society, and president of the Society for the Preservation of the Atmospheric Purity of Cleveland, a particularly intriguing distinction. For Olney’s biography, see The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 6 (New York: James T. White, 1896), 106. 82. Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 234. Didi-Huberman ultimately differentiates between the “detail” as a representational form and the “pan” (a word borrowed from Proust) as the abstract “patch” of paint, “an accident of representation.” The art historian interested in the detail is, according to Didi-Huberman, the iconographer, a Sherlock Holmes character, while the “person fond of pans” embraces abstractions and ambiguity.Yet DidiHuberman’s insistence on drawing such boundaries, of cutting up the very definition of detail, seems reductive in its (modernist) privileging of abstraction and, for me, is problematic when considering the nineteenth century. See Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images, 248, 259, 266, 268–71. 83. Darwin, Origin, 384.

notes to pages 177–183

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84. Ibid. 85. Emma Darwin wrote this note to her husband Charles shortly after their marriage in January 1839, expressing her concerns about his growing religious doubts. Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters, 1792–1896, ed. Henrietta Litchfield, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1915), 2:174.

e pi log u e . t he i n s i g n i f i c an t d e tai l 1. “Must This Mansion Be Destroyed?” Life, May 13, 1966, 67, 80. 2. Dan Flavin, “some other comments . . . more pages from a spleenish journal,” Artforum 6, no. 4 (December 1967): 21. My thanks to Riccardo Venturi for introducing me to this essay. 3. Ibid. 4. Dan Flavin, “Record Book 1962–63: Excerpts,” in Isabelle Dervaux, Dan Flavin: Drawing (New York: Morgan Library and Museum, 2012), 52, 56. Entries dated August 28, 1962, and November 9, 1962. 5. “Dan Flavin Interviewed by Tiffany Bell” (1982), in Michael Govan and Tiffany Bell, Dan Flavin: A Retrospective (New York: Dia Art Foundation; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005), 199. 6. See Patricia Phagan, Hudson River School Drawings from the Dia Art Foundation, April 12–June 15, 2003 (Poughkeepsie, NY: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2003), and Jennifer Raab, “ ‘Some Light on the American Landscape’: Dan Flavin and the Nineteenth Century,” in Dervaux, Dan Flavin: Drawing, 35–47. 7. The majority of Church’s sketches were donated by his son Louis in 1917 to the Cooper Union Museum (now the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution) in New York, and many others were kept at Olana. Prices for works by nineteenth-century American artists, particularly Church, were also rising sharply just at the time that Flavin began collecting. Although Flavin’s choices of artists and artworks may have been limited by budget and availability, his decision to bring certain drawings into Dia’s collection (or his personal collection) was based on aesthetic empathy. 8. “Dan Flavin Interviewed by Tiffany Bell,” 198. 9. Frederic Edwin Church [hereafter “FEC”] to Martin Johnson Heade, October 24, 1870, Box 1, Folder 2, Martin Johnson Heade Papers, 1853–1904, Archives


of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. 10. Stephen Flavin, conversation with the author, January 4, 2011. 11. For a discussion of the architectural plans for Flavin’s museum, see Tiffany Bell, “Dan Flavin: Collecting American Drawings,” in Dervaux, Dan Flavin: Drawing, 29–30. 12. For discussions of Flavin and Russian Constructivism, see for example Michael Govan, “Irony and Light,” in Govan and Bell, Dan Flavin: A Retrospective, 40–45; Briony Fer, “Nocturama: Flavin’s Light Diagrams,” in Dan Flavin: New Light, ed. Jeffrey Weiss (New Haven:Yale University Press; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2006), 36–37; and Hal Foster, “Dan Flavin and the Catastrophe of Minimalism,” in Weiss, Dan Flavin: New Light, 137–41. For discussions of Flavin and Duchamp, see Govan, “Irony and Light,” 33, 52–53, 114; Jeffrey Weiss, “Blunt in Bright Repose,” in Weiss, Dan Flavin: New Light, 54–57, 74–78; and James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2001), 97–106. 13. For a discussion of the historical references for Flavin’s untitled (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow), see Govan, “Irony and Light,” 68, and Emily S. Rauh and Dan Flavin, Corners, Barriers and Corridors in Fluorescent Light from Dan Flavin, vol. 2 (St. Louis: St. Louis Art Museum, 1973), 36. 14. “Interview with Dan Graham by Rodney Graham with Chrissie Iles and Gary Carrion-Murayari” (2008), in Bennett Simpson and Chrissie Iles, Dan Graham: Beyond (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), 97. My thanks to Robert Slifkin for bringing this remark to my attention. 15. “Dan Flavin Interviewed by Tiffany Bell,” 198. 16. Two checklists of the exhibition remain. It is not clear which was the final list, but both included Oldenburg’s Proposed Colossal Monument for Central Park, N.Y.C.– Moving Pool Balls (1967) as well as Proposed Colossal Monument for Park Avenue–Moving Pool Balls (1967). Michelle White, Associate Curator, the Menil Collection, Houston, correspondence with the author, July 18, 2011; and Geri Aramanda, Archivist, the Menil Collection, correspondence with the author, July 2014. My thanks to them both for finding this material in the Menil archives. 17. Claes Oldenburg, Constructions, Models, and Drawings (Chicago: Richard Feigen Gallery, 1969), np.

notes to pages 183– 189

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18. Claes Oldenburg, unpublished notes (1960), quoted in Germano Celant, Dieter Koepplin, and Mark Rosenthal, Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology (New York: Guggenheim Museum; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1995), 60. 19. Jay Belloli and Emily S. Rauh, Dan Flavin: Drawings, Diagrams and Prints, 1972–1975. Dan Flavin: Installations in Fluorescent Light, 1972–1975 (Fort Worth: Fort Worth Art Museum, 1977), 34. The short “Note” about the artist’s installation states that “Flavin presented, as he frequently does in connection with his one-man shows, an exhibition selected from the Art Museum’s permanent collection.” According to Tiffany Bell, he may have curated (or proposed) similar exhibitions elsewhere. Flavin would, Bell remembers, talk with the drawing curators at museums where his work was being exhibited, benefiting from their expertise while getting to know the rich and broad collections at institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Fogg Museum at Harvard, museums that have especially strong holdings in nineteenth-century American drawings and paintings. Tiffany Bell, correspondence with the author, May 4, 2011. 20. Flavin would continue to collect for himself. Scholars have often characterized his wide-ranging collecting interests as “eclectic,” a term that tends to blunt the importance of these works for Flavin’s practice. See for instance Fer, “Nocturama: Flavin’s Light Diagrams,” 34.

its formation as a modern discipline and confront the unavoidable material basis of its referential operations, the weight and heft of the stuff of which its images are made. Likewise, although material culture offers inroads to the interpretation of things, it reaches a methodological impasse with representation, which by definition signifies something beyond material specificity of the work.” Jennifer L. Roberts, Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 162. 26. “Discussions with Heizer, Oppenheim, Smithson” (1970), repr. in Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 250. These conversations were organized by Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp. 27. Donald B. Kuspit, “19th-Century Landscape: Poetry and Property,” Art in America 64, no. 1 (January– February 1976): 69. 28. Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825–1875 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 71. 29. FEC to Erastus Dow Palmer, April 19, 1891. Erastus Dow Palmer Papers, McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY. Transcript in the Olana Research Collection, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY.

21. Nor are they even stored there. The drawings are stored nearby at Vassar College’s Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center. On the one hand, this is wonderful— Vassar has an extraordinary museum, with a first-rate collection of nineteenth-century American art, and the drawings undoubtedly get much more use by students and faculty there than they would in Dia’s storage. But if we are being sensitive to site-specificity and the politics of positionality, then it seems important to point out that Dia chose not to execute Flavin’s vision, years later, at Beacon. 22. Hal Foster, “At Dia:Beacon,” London Review of Books 25, no. 11 (June 5, 2003): 29. 23. Henry James, “The Madonna of the Future,” in Henry James: Complete Stories, 1864–1874 (New York: Library of America, 1999), 735. 24. Henry James, “On Some Pictures Lately Exhibited,” Galaxy 20 (July 1875): 89–97, repr. in American Art 1700–1960: Sources and Documents, ed. John W. McCoubrey (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 168. 25. “Art history needs to look beyond the theories of illusion, representation, and iconography that underlie

notes to pages 189– 193

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Selected Bibliography Adamson, Jeremy Elwell. “Frederic Church’s Niagara: The Sublime as Transcendence.” 2 vols. PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1981. ———, et al. Niagara:Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697–1901. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1985. Agassiz, Louis. An Essay on Classification. 1857. Reprint, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, and Trübner, 1859. Altick, Richard D. The Shows of London. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978. Andrews, Malcolm. The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760–1800. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989. Apolstolos-Cappadona, Diane. The Spirit and the Vision: The Influence of Christian Romanticism on the Development of 19th-Century American Art. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995. Arasse, Daniel. Le détail: Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture. Paris: Flammarion, 1996. ———. Histoires de peintures. Paris: Gallimard, 2006. ———. Take a Closer Look. Translated by Alyson Waters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013. Avery, Kevin J. Church’s Great Picture: The Heart of the Andes. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. ———. “ ‘The Heart of the Andes’ Exhibited: Frederic E. Church’s Window on the Equatorial World.” American Art Journal 18, no. 1 (Winter 1986): 52–72. ———. Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Hudson, NY: The Olana Partnership, 2005. Badeau, Adam. TheVagabond. New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1859. Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. 3rd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Barringer, Tim, Gillian Forrester, and Barbaro MartinezRuiz. Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and HisWorlds. New Haven:Yale University Press and Yale Center for British Art, 2007. Barthes, Roland. The Rustle of Language. Translated by Richard Howard. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. 2nd ed. Translated by Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon, 1995.

Bedell, Rebecca. The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Beecher, Henry Ward. Eyes and Ears. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862. Beer, Gillian. Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Belanger, Pamela J. Inventing Acadia: Artists and Tourists at Mount Desert. Rockland, ME: Farnsworth Art Museum, 1999. Belloli, Jay, and Emily S. Rauh. Dan Flavin: Drawings, Diagrams, and Prints, 1972–1975. Dan Flavin: Installations in Fluorescent Light, 1972–1975. Fort Worth: Fort Worth Art Museum, 1977. Benfey, Christopher. A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the IntersectingWorlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. New York: Penguin, 2008. Berger, Martin. Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Bermingham, Ann. Landscape and Ideology:The English Rustic Tradition, 1740–1860. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Berton, Pierre. The Arctic Grail:The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1988. ———. Niagara: A History of the Falls. New York: Kodansha, 1992. Bigelow, John. Jamaica in 1850; or,The Effects of Sixteen Years of Freedom on a Slave Colony. 1851. Reprint, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Bishop, Elizabeth. Poems, Prose, and Letters. Edited by Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz. New York: Library of America, 2008. Boime, Albert. The Magisterial Gaze: Manifest Destiny and American Landscape Painting, c. 1830–1865. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1991. Bowlby, Rachel. Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola. New York: Methuen, 1985. Brodhead, Richard H., ed. New Essays on Moby-Dick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Bronner, Simon J., ed. ConsumingVisions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880–1920. Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum; New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.


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Brown, Bill. A Sense of Things:The Object Matter of American Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Brown, Richard D. Knowledge Is Power:The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Browne, Janet. Charles Darwin:The Power of Place. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002. ———. Charles Darwin: Voyaging. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995. Bryant, William M. Philosophy of Landscape Painting. St. Louis, MO: St. Louis News, 1882. Burke, Doreen Bolger. “Frederic Edwin Church and ‘The Banner of Dawn.’” American Art Journal 14, no. 2 (Spring 1982): 39–46. Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. 1757. Edited by J. T. Boulton. Reprint, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958. Burnham, Patricia M., and Lucretia Hoover Giese, eds. Redefining 5HGHÀQLQJ$PHULFDQ+LVWRU\3DLQWLQJ American History Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Burns, Sarah. Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in the Gilded Age. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1996. Burns, Sarah, and John Davis, eds. American Art to 1900: A Documentary History. Berkeley: University of $'RFXPHQWDU\+LVWRU\ California Press, 2009. Bushnell, Horace. Nature and the Supernatural, as Together Constituting One System of God. 1858. Reprint, London: Richard D. Dickinson, 1880. Cao, Maggie. “Heade’s Hummingbirds and the Ungrounding of Landscape.” American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 48–75. Carr, Gerald L. Frederic Edwin Church: Catalogue Raisonné of Works of Art at Olana 2ODQD6WDWH+LVWRULF6LWH State Historic Site. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. ———. Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1980. ———. Frederic Edwin Church: In Search of the Promised Land. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 2000. ———. Frederic Edwin Church: Romantic Landscapes and Seascapes. New York: Adelson Galleries, 2007. ———. Olana Landscapes:The World of Frederic E. Church. New York: Rizzoli, 1989. Carr, Gerald L., and Franklin Kelly. The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845–1854. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1987. Casey, Edward S. Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Castronovo, Russ. Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Celant, Germano, Dieter Koepplin, and Mark Rosenthal. Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology. New York: Guggenheim Museum; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1995. Christ, Carol T. The Finer Optic:The Aesthetic of Particularity in Victorian Poetry. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1975. Cikovsky, Nicolai, Jr. “ ‘The Ravages of the Axe’: The Meaning of the Tree Stump in Nineteenth-Century American Art.” Art Bulletin 61, no. 4 (December 1979): 611–26. Clemens, Samuel. Mark Twain’s Letters. Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917. Cole, Thomas. Thomas Cole’s Poetry. Edited by Marshall B. Tymn.York, PA: Liberty Cap, 1972. Conron, John. American Picturesque. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Copley, Stephen, and Peter Garside, eds. The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Corbett, David Peters. “Art, Morality, and the National Interest: Theodore Winthrop, Frederic Church, and Martin Johnson Heade at the Tenth Street Studios in 1859.” European Journal of American Studies 30, no. 2 (June 2011): 57–72. Corn, Wanda M. The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Crary, Jonathan. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999. ———. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990. Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an AutobioDarwin, Charles. &KDUOHV'DUZLQ+LV/LIH7ROGLQDQ$XWRELRgraphical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published JUDSKLFDO&KDSWHUDQGLQD6HOHFWHG6HULHVRI+LV3XEOLVKHG Letters. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, 1902. ———. Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary. Edited by R. D. Keynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ———. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. Edited by Francis Darwin. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1896. ———. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. 1859. Reprint, NewYork: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Darwin, Emma. Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters, . Edited by Henrietta Litchfield. 2 vols. 1792–1896.(GLWHGE\+HQULHWWD/LWFKÀHOG2 London: John Murray, 1915.

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Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. Objectivity. New York: Zone, 2007. Davidson, Gail S., Sarah Burns, Barbara Bloemink, and Karal Ann Marling. Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran:Tourism and the American Landscape. New York: Smithsonian Institution and Bulfinch Press, 2006. Davis, John. The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. de Havenon, Georgia, Christina De León, Alicia LubowskiJahn, and Gabriela Rangel, eds. Unity of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas. New York: Americas Society; Bielefeld, Westphalia: Kerber, 2014. DeLue, Rachael Ziady. George Inness and the Science of Landscape. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. DeLue, Rachael Ziady, and James Elkins, eds. Landscape Theory. New York: Routledge, 2008. Dervaux, Isabelle. Dan Flavin: Drawing. New York: Morgan Library and Museum, 2012. Dickens, Charles. American Notes. 1842. Reprint, Cologne: Könemann, 2000. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art. Translated by John Goodman. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. Donald, Diana, and Jane Munro, eds. Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts. London:Yale University Press; New Haven:Yale Center for British Art; Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, 2009. Downing, Andrew Jackson. A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America. 4th ed. New York: George Putnam, 1851. Driver, Felix, and Luciana Martins. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Dyer, Richard. Pastiche. London: Routledge, 2007. Elsner, Jas´. “Art History as Ekphrasis.” Art History 33, no. 1 (February 2010): 10–27. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Selected Essays. Edited by Larzer Ziff. New York: Penguin, 1982. Fels, Thomas Weston. Fire and Ice:Treasures from the Photographic Collection of Frederic Church at Olana. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; New York: Dahesh Museum of Art, 2002. Ferry, John William. A History of the Department Store. New York: Macmillan, 1960. Flavin, Dan. “some other comments . . . more pages from a spleenish journal.” Artforum 6, no. 4 (December 1967): 20–25.

Flint, Kate. The Victorians and the Visual Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Floridi, Luciano. Information: AVery Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Frost, Robert. Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays. Edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson. New York: The Library of America, 1995. Fulweiler, Howard W. “The Strange Case of Governor Eyre: Race and the ‘Victorian Frame of Mind.’” Clio 29 (Winter 2000): 119–42. Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. “Scientific Sources of the FullLength Landscape: 1850.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (October 1945): 59–65. Gilmore, Michael T. Surface and Depth:The Quest for Legibility in American Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 2011. Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 1961. Gould, Stephen Jay. I Have Landed:The End of a Beginning in Natural History. New York: Random House, 2003. Govan, Michael, and Tiffany Bell. Dan Flavin: A Retrospective. New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2005. Hall, Catherine. “The Economy of Intellectual Prestige: Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and the Case of Governor Eyre.” Cultural Critique 12 (Spring 1989): 167–96. Halttunen, Karen. Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830–1870. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1982. Harvey, Eleanor Jones. The Civil War and American Art. Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum; New Haven:Yale University Press, 2012. ———. The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature, 1830–1880. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1998. ———. TheVoyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church’s Arctic Masterpiece. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2002. Hayes, Dr. Isaac Israel. The Open Polar Sea: A Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole, in the Schooner “United States.” New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867. Headrick, Daniel. When Information Came of Age:Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700– 1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.


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Heuman, Gad J. The Killing Time:The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. Hiller, Susan, et al. “Notes from the Field: Detail.” Art Bulletin 94 (December 2012): 490–514. Hilles, Frederick W., and Harold Bloom, eds. From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented to Frederick A. Pottle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Holmes, Oliver Wendell. “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph.” Atlantic Monthly 3 (January 1859): 738–48. Holt, Thomas C. The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Hosley, William. Colt:The Making of an American Legend. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1996. Hovenkamp, Herbert. Science and Religion in America, 1800– 1860. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978. Howat, John K. Frederic Church. New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005. Humboldt, Alexander von. Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe. Translated by E. C. Otté. 5 vols. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1849–58. Humboldt, Alexander von, and Aimé Bonpland. Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During theYears 1799–1804. 3 vols. Translated by Thomasina Ross. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1852. Huntington, David C. “Frederic Edwin Church, 1826–1900: Painter of the Adamic New World Myth.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1960. ———. “Frederic Church’s Niagara: Nature and the Nation’s Type.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 25 (Spring 1983): 100–105. ———. The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era. New York: G. Braziller, 1966. Iarocci, Louisa M. “Spaces of Desire: The Department Store in America.” PhD diss., Boston University, 2003. The Poetics of Natural History: From John Irmscher, Christophe. 7KH3RHWLFVRI1DWXUDO+LVWRU\)URP-RKQ Bartram to William James. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Irving, Washington, et al. 7KH+RPH%RRNRIWKH3LFWXUHVTXH The Home Book of the Picturesque; or, American Scenery, Art and Literature. 1852. Reprint, Gainesville, FL: Scholar’s Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967. James, Henry. The Art of Travel: Scenes and Journeys in America, (QJODQG)UDQFHDQG,WDO\IURPWKH7UDYHO England, France, and Italy from the Travel : Writings ULWLQJVRI+HQU\ of Henry James. Edited by Morton Dauwen Zabel. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1958.

———. Complete Stories, 1864–1874. New York: Library of America, 1999. Jarves, James Jackson. $UW+LQWV$UFKLWHFWXUH6FXOSWXUHDQG Art-Hints: Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1855. ———. The Art-Idea: Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture in America. 5WKHG%RVWRQ+RXJKWRQ0LIÁLQ1864. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1864. Jordan, Guy. “The Aesthetics of Intoxication in American Art and Culture.” PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2007. Kammen, Michael. Mystic Chords of Memory:The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. New York: Vintage, 1991. Kelly, Franklin. Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Kelly, Franklin, Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan, and Debora Rindge. Frederic Edwin Church. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989. Kierkegaard, Søren. A Kierkegaard Anthology. Edited by Robert Bretall. New York: Modern Library, 1946. Koerner, Joseph Leo. Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1990. Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin. American Paintings before 1945 in the Wadsworth Atheneum. Vol. 1. New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1996. ———. +XGVRQ5LYHU6FKRRO0DVWHUZRUNVIURPWKH DGVZRUWK Hudson River School: Masterworks from the : Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. New Haven:Yale University Press; Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2003. Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin, and Katherine E. Manthorne. )HUQ+XQWLQJDPRQJ7KHVH3LFWXUHVTXH0RXQWDLQV Fern Hunting among These Picturesque Mountains: Frederic Church in Jamaica. Hudson, NY: Olana Partnership; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. Kort, Pamela, and Max Hollein, eds. Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins. Cologne: Wienand, 2009. Kuspit, Donald B. “19th-Century Landscape: Poetry and Property.” Art in America 64, no. 1 (January–February 1976): 64–71. Larson, Barbara, and Fae Brauer, eds. The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2009. Leach, William. Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Pantheon, 1993. Leja, Michael. Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Levine, Lawrence W. +LJKEURZ/RZEURZ7KH(PHUJHQFHRI Highbrow/Lowbrow:The Emergence of &XOWXUDO+LHUDUFK\LQ$PHULFD Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

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Lindquist-Cock, Elizabeth. The Influence of Photography on American Landscape Painting, 1939–1880. New York: Garland, 1977. Lossing, Benson J. The National History of the United States. 2 vols. New York: Edward Walker, 1855. ———. Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1851. Lowenthal, David. George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000. Lubin, David M. Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1994. Macdougall, Doug. Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. MacLean, Gerald, Donna Landry, and Joseph P. Ward, eds. The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550–1850. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1999. Mahan, Harold. Benson J. Lossing and Historical Writing in the United States, 1830–1890.Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996. Manthorne, Katherine Emma. Creation and Renewal: Views of Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1985. ———. Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1989. Markoe, Glenn, ed. Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003. Marsh, George Perkins. Man and Nature, or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. New York: Charles Scribner, 1864. ———. So Great a Vision:The Conservation Writings of George Perkins Marsh. Edited by Stephen C. Trombulak. Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College Press, 2001. Maury, Matthew. The Physical Geography of the Sea, and Its Meteorology. 1855. Reprint, London: Sampson Low, Son, 1860. McCoubrey, John W., ed. American Art, 1700–1960: Sources and Documents. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965. McKinsey, Elizabeth. Niagara Falls: Icon of the American Sublime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Melville, Herman. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. 1866. Reprint, Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2001. ———. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. 1876. Edited by Walter E. Bezanson. Reprint, New York: Hendrick House, 1960.

———. Moby-Dick, or The Whale. 1851. Reprint, New York: Penguin, 1988. Meyer, James. Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties. New Haven:Yale University Press, 2001. Miller, Angela. The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825–1875. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. ———. “Everywhere and Nowhere: The Making of the National Landscape.” American Literary History 4, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 207–29. Miller, David C., ed. American Iconology: New Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1993. ———. Dark Eden:The Swamp in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Mitchell, Timothy. “Frederic Church’s The Icebergs: Erratic Boulders and Time’s Slow Changes.” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 3, no. 4 (Fall 1989): 2–23. Mitchell, W. J. T., ed. Landscape and Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Moorehead, Alan. Darwin and the Beagle. New York: Harper and Row, 1969. Navas Sanz de Santamaría, Pablo. The Journey of Frederic Edwin Church through Colombia and Ecuador, April– October 1853. Bogotá, Colombia: Villegas Editores and Universidad de los Andes, 2008. Neff, Emily Ballew. John Singleton Copley in England. London: Merrell Holberton; Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995. Nemerov, Alexander. The Body of Raphaelle Peale: Still Life and Selfhood, 1812–1824. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 2000. ———. “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.” 1874. Translated by Peter Preuss. Reprint, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980. Noble, Rev. Louis Legrand. After Icebergs with a Painter: A SummerVoyage to Labrador and around Newfoundland. New York: D. Appleton, 1861. ———. Church’s Painting:The Heart of the Andes. New York: D. Appleton, 1859. ———. The Life andWorks of Thomas Cole, N. A. 3rd ed. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, 1856. Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience. New York: Praeger, 1969.


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———. “The Double-Edged Axe.” Art in America 64, no. 1 (January–February 1976): 44–50. ———. “Grand Opera and the Small Still Voice.” Art in America 59 (March–April 1971): 64–73. ———. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825–1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. ———. Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels, and Patterns in American Art and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Oldenburg, Claes. Constructions, Models, and Drawings. Chicago: Richard Feigen Gallery, 1969. Olick, Jeffrey K., Vered Vinitzky-Serousssi, and Daniel Levy, eds. The Collective Memory Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pfitzer, 3ÀW]HU*UHJRU\03LFWXULQJWKH3DVW,OOXVWUDWHG+LVWRULHVDQG Gregory M. Picturing the Past: Illustrated Histories and the American Imagination, 1840–1900. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2002. ———. 3RSXODU+LVWRU\DQGWKH/LWHUDU\0DUNHWSODFH Popular History and the Literary Marketplace, 1840– 1920. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. Phagan, Patricia. +XGVRQ5LYHU6FKRRO'UDZLQJVIURPWKH'LD Hudson River School Drawings from the Dia Art Foundation, April 12–June 15, 2003. Poughkeepsie, NY: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2003. Phillips, Adam. Darwin’s Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories. New York: Basic, 2000. Pohrt, Tanya. “Touring Pictures: The Exhibition of American History Paintings in the Early Republic.” PhD diss., University of Delaware, 2013. Porter, J. L. Handbook +DQGERRNIRU7UDYHOOHUVLQ6\ULDDQG3DOHVWLQH for Travellers in Syria and Palestine. 1st ed. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1858; 2nd, revised ed. (1 vol.), 1875. Price, Uvedale. Essays on the Picturesque. 3 vols. London: J. Mawman, 1810. Prodger, Philip. Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Prown, Jules David. John Singleton Copley. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966. ———. “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method.” Winterthur Portfolio 17, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 1–19. ———. “Style as Evidence.” Winterthur Portfolio 15, no. 3 (Autumn 1980): 197–210. Quilley, Geoff, and Kay Dian Kriz, eds. An Economy of Colour:Visual Culture and the AtlanticWorld, 1660–1830. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2003. Rauh, Emily S., and Dan Flavin. Corners, Barriers, and Corridors in Fluorescent Light from Dan Flavin. Vol. 2. St. Louis: St. Louis Art Museum, 1973.

Revie, Linda L. “The Wilds of Niagara: Constructions of the Falls in Fine Arts, Literary and Scientific Narratives, )DOOVLQ)LQH$UWV/LWHUDU\DQG6FLHQWLÀF1DUUDWLYHV from Discovery through the Twentieth Century.” PhD diss., Boston College, 1998. Reynolds, Sir Joshua. Discourses on Art (1769–90). Edited by Robert R. Wark. Reprint, New Haven:Yale University Press, 1975. Richards, Thomas. The Commodity Culture ofVictorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851–1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. ———. The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire. London: Verso, 1993. Ricoeur, Paul. 0HPRU\+LVWRU\)RUJHWWLQJ Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Roberts, Jennifer L. Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and +LVWRU\ History. New Haven:Yale University Press, 2004. ———. Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. Robinson, Michael. The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Roper, Laura Wood. FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. Ruskin, John. TheWorks of John Ruskin. Edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903–12. Ryan, James Anthony. Frederic Church’s Olana: Architecture and Landscape as Art. Hensonville, NY: Black Dome, 2001. Sachs, Aaron. The 7KH+XPEROGW&XUUHQW1LQHWHHQWK&HQWXU\ Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism. New York: Viking, 2006. Samuels, Maurice. The 7KH6SHFWDFXODU3DVW3RSXODU+LVWRU\DQGWKH Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004. Sandler, Martin W. The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen’s Ghost Ship. New York: Sterling, 2006. Savours, Ann. The Search for the North West Passage. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. NewYork: Knopf, 1995. Schor, Naomi. Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine. 1987. Reprint, New York: Routledge, 2007. Scully, Vincent. “Palace of the Past.” Progressive Architecture 46 (May 1965): 185–89. Sears, John F. Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

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Semmel, Bernard. The Governor Eyre Controversy. London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1962. Sheldon, G.W. American Painters. NewYork: D. Appleton, 1881. Siegel, Nancy, ed. The Cultured Canvas: New Perspectives on American Landscape Painting. Lebanon: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012. Simon, Janice. “The Crayon, 1855–1861: The Voice of Nature in Criticism, Poetry, and the Fine Arts.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1990. Simpson, Bennett, and Chrissie Iles. Dan Graham: Beyond. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Smith, Jonathan. Charles Darwin and VictorianVisual Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Smithson, Robert. The Collected Writings. Edited by Jack Flam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Snow, Edward. A Study of Vermeer. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Stepan, Nancy. Picturing Tropical Nature. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. Stillman, William James. The Autobiography of a Journalist. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; Cambridge, MA: Riverside, 1901. Sweeney, J. Gray. “ ‘Endued with Rare Genius’: Frederic Edwin Church’s To the Memory of Cole,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 2, no. 1 (Winter 1988): 44–71. Thompson, Krista A. An Eye for the Tropics:Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. Thoreau, Henry David. Material Faith: Thoreau on Science. Edited by Laura Dassow Walls. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. ———. Walden. 1854. Reprint, New York: Penguin, 1999. Toole, Robert M. Historic Landscape Report: Olana State Historic Site. Hudson, NY: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Friends of Olana, 1996. Trebilcock, Evelyn D., and Valerie A. Balint. Glories of the Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church’s Views from Olana. Hudson, NY: Olana Partnership; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009. Truettner, William H. “The Genesis of Frederic Edwin Church’s Aurora Borealis.” Art Quarterly 31, no. 3 (Autumn 1968): 267–83.

Tsai, Eugenie, and Cornelia Butler, eds. Robert Smithson. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Tuckerman, Henry T. Book of the Artists: American Artist Life. New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1867. Watson, Tim. Caribbean Culture and British Fiction in the Atlantic World, 1780–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Weisman, Winston. “Commercial Palaces of New York: 1845–1875.” Art Bulletin 36, no. 4 (December 1954): 285–302. Weiss, Jeffrey, ed. Dan Flavin: New Light. New Haven:Yale University Press; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2006. Westheider, Ortud, and Karsten Müller, eds. New World: Creating an American Art. Hamburg: Bucerius Kunst Forum; Munich: Hirmer, 2007. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. 1855. Reprint, New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1897. Wilmerding, John. American Light:The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. Wilton, Andrew, and Tim Barringer. American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880. London: Tate Publishing, 2002. Winks, Robin W. Frederick Billings: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Winthrop, Theodore. A Companion to The Heart of the Andes. New York: D. Appleton, 1859. Wolf, Bryan Jay. “On First Looking at Frederic Church’s The Andes of Ecuador (And Then Looking Some More).” Orion: A Nature Quarterly 7, no. 4 (September 1988): 20–23. ———. Romantic Re-Visions: Culture and Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century American Painting and Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Wölfflin, Heinrich. Principles of Art History:The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art. 7th ed. Translated by M. D. Hottinger. 1932. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1950. Woloch, Alex. The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.


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Index note: Page numbers in italic type refer to illustrations.


Abstract Expressionism, 11, 173 Adams, John, 78–80 Agassiz, Louis, 61, 102–3, 111, 202–2, 210n34 Albion (newspaper), 115 allegory, 11, 123, 126–29 Alps, 45 American West, 45 The Andes of Ecuador (Church), 15, 45–51, 46; comparisons to, 51, 123, 155, 162; composition of, 48–49; details in, 1, 72; details of, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50; interpretations of, 48–49; light in, 46–48, 50, 114; reception of, 7; religious aspects of, 48–50 anthropomorphism, 104, 116, 156 antiquarian history, 32, 34 Arasse, Daniel, 3, 6, 14, 19, 106, 195n24, 195n26 Arctic Circle, 70, 87, 91–92, 96, 102, 107–8 Aristotle, 121 Artforum (magazine), 185 art history: methodology of, 17–18, 221–25; task of, 6; as translation, 18 Atlantic Monthly (magazine), 73, 74, 75 A. T. Stewart’s department stores, 76–77, 77 Avery, Kevin, 10


Bachelard, Gaston, 68, 160 Badeau, Adam, 31, 73–74 Bal, Mieke, 194n18 Barnum, P. T., 83, 208n68 Barringer, Tim, 143 Barthes, Roland, 71–73, 100, 121, 206n25 Baudelaire, Charles, 5 Beecher, Henry Ward, 62–63, 78, 202n2 Beer, Gillian, 51 Beer, S., “Rainy Season in the Tropics” onView in Frederic Church’s Tenth Street Studio, 139, 139 Bell, Tiffany, 187, 221n19 Bethune, George Washington, 204n45 Bezanson, Walter E., 159 Bierstadt, Albert, 45, 197n59, 202n2; The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 8 Bigelow, John, Jamaica in 1850, 141–42, 214n46

Billings, Frederick, 179–80, 219 n75 Billings, Julia Parmly, 179–80, 219n75 Bishop, Elizabeth, 19, 116 Blanchot, Maurice, 104 Bloch, Ernst, 121 Blodgett, William T., 82, 202n2 the body, 155, 174 Boston Transcript (newspaper), 99 Brown, Bill, 206n43 Brownell, Charles DeWolf, 136–38 Browning, Robert, 13, 40, 201n47 Bryant, William M., 54, 130; Philosophy of Landscape Painting, 203n22 Burckhardt, Johann Ludwig, 148 Burke, Edmund, 29–30 Bushnell, Horace, 62, 204n46


Cabot, J. Eliot, 59 Cao, Maggie M., 194n11 Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, The Incredulity of St.Thomas, 144, 145 Carlyle, Thomas, 140 Carr, Gerald, 10, 95, 96, 165–66, 209 n13, 211n1, 213n36 Cast Iron Palace, 76, 77, 207n48 Castronovo, Russ, 32 Central Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut, 62 Central Park, New York City, 172–75, 181 Central Park Commission, 173, 218n28 Chambers, Robert, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, 62 Chicago Sunday Times (newspaper), 156 Christ, Carol, 12–13, 14, 17 Christian Examiner (newspaper), 101, 103 Christian Intelligencer (newspaper), 170, 173 Church, Emma Frances, 126, 134 Church, Frederic Edwin: birth and training of, 7; Central Park Commission membership, 173, 218n28; children of, 126, 134, 178; death of, 1, 196n50, 216n53; exhibition practices of, 155–56, 190; health of, 42, 43, 147; influences on, 14, 197n69; library of, 45, 54, 175, 203 n22, 203 n26, 204n46, 209n8; pupils of, 59; religiousness of, 48, 54, 62; scholarship on, 10–11, 196n53; and science,


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18–19, 51, 54, 92; travels of, 7–8, 45, 87, 91, 96, 123, 126, 128, 133–34, 147, 168, 213n26. See also Church, Frederic Edwin, works by Church, Frederic Edwin, works by: The Aegean Sea, 158–59, 158; The After Glow, 211n1; Andean Snow Peak, 208n63; Arch from an Aqueduct, Cuernavaca, 162, 163; Cotopaxi, 72, 72, 123; El Khazneh, Studies of Architectural Details, Petra, Jordan, 153, 154; Evening in the Tropics, 164 (detail), 179–80, 181, 219 n75; FernWalk, Jamaica, 128; Final Study for the Icebergs, 119, 119; Floating Iceberg, 87; Horseshoe Falls, 24, 25; Iceberg and Steamship, 193, 193; The Iceberg (c. 1875), 184 (detail), 191, 191–92; The Iceberg (1891), 192–93, 192; Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset, 118–19; ideological interpretation of, 10–11; Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, 150–51, 150; To the Memory of Cole, 126–28, 127, 144, 212n6; Moonrise in Greece, 158; Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 33, 76; Our Banner in the Sky, 93–94, 94; The Parthenon, 158; Rainy Season in the Tropics, 72, 138, 139–40, 139, 213n36; reception of, 1, 4, 7, 9–11, 41, 147, 195n33, 196n50, 199 n18, 214n2; Sketches for Stencil Borders, Olana, 167; Sketch of Trees for “The Heart of the Andes,” 178, 178; Southwest Façade, Olana, 167; Study for “The Heart of the Andes,” 58; Sunset, Jamaica, 186, 186; Syria by the Sea, 153, 155; TropicalVines and Trees, Jamaica, 134, 135, 136 (detail); Twilight in theWilderness, 93–94, 93, 209 n16; Valley of the SantaYsabel, 165, 166; AView in Cuernavaca, Mexico, 161–63, 161, 216n53; Winter Twilight from Olana, 186, 186. See also The Andes of Ecuador; El Khasné, Petra; The Heart of the Andes; The Icebergs; Niagara; Olana; Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica Church, Frederic Joseph, Plan of Olana, 168, 168 Church, Herbert Edwin, 126, 134 Church, Isabel, 126, 133–34, 147, 165, 169, 178, 216n1, 219 n75 citizenship, 31–32, 35 Civil War, 87, 93–95, 134, 140 class, 15, 41. See also high and low culture; middle class Cole, Theodore, 167, 178 Cole, Thomas: artistic philosophy of, 30, 199 n12; “The Burial Ground at Catskill,” 127; Church and, 7, 167; The Cross and theWorld, 127; The Cross in theWilderness, 127; dead trees and stumps in paintings of, 25, 126; DistantView of Niagara Falls, 35–37, 37, 38 (detail); in Durand’s Kindred Spirits, 130–31; environmental concerns of, 176, 198n2; grottoes in work of, 112–13; Landscape Composition, St. John in theWilderness, 119, 120; on landscape painting, 11, 46, 49–50; “Notes on Art,” 30; painted tributes to, 126–28, 127, 130–31; and the sublime, 72; The Subsiding of theWaters of the Deluge, 112–13, 113; TheVoyage of Life:Youth, 115, 115 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 91 Collingwood, W. G., 13

colonialism, 131–34, 140–43 Colt, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis, 143, 145, 214n54 Colt, Samuel, 143, 214n54 Conron, John, 170–72 consumer culture, 15, 66, 74, 76–78, 207n46 Continental Monthly (magazine), 80 Copley, John Singleton, 195n32 Corn, Wanda, 18 Cosy Cottage, Hudson, NY, 170 Crary, Jonathan, 84 Crayon (journal), 59, 73 critical history, 32 Cropsey, Jasper, 187 culture. See high and low culture culture of detail, 14 Cuyler, Theodore, 63, 95, 97


Dana, Charles Anderson, 201n40 D. Appleton and Company, 103 Darwin, Charles, 45, 140, 175; Church and, 7, 19, 54–55, 203n26; The Descent of Man, 57; detail in works of, 19, 51, 54–55, 106–7; and evolution, 63; and God, 139, 183, 220n85; influences on, 54, 203n25; on nature, 61, 102, 138–39; The Origin of Species, 15, 19, 51, 54, 62, 84, 87, 102–3, 183, 198n79; world view associated with, 15, 54, 117, 136, 176–77, 203n23 Darwin, Emma, 183, 220n85 Daston, Lorraine, 13 Davis, John, 11, 47, 151, 152, 214n2, 215n21 death: Arctic Circle and, 105; Church’s, 1, 196n50, 216n53; of Church’s children, 126, 134; of Cole, 126–27, 127; Cole’s The Subsiding of theWaters of the Deluge and, 113; El Khasné, Petra and, 156; The Icebergs and, 108, 113, 121, 156; Icebergs andWreck in Sunset and, 119; Jamaica and, 140; in nature, 177 (see also struggle for existence) decadence, 79, 80 decay, 134 De Forest, Robert and Emily, Court Hall and Stair Hall, Olana, 168, 169 DeLue, Rachael, 5, 18, 26 Dennis, Robert N., A.T. Stewart’s Building and Grace Church, NewYork City, 77 department stores, 15, 76–77, 77, 207n46 detail: and absence, 123; analytical approaches to, 3–6; of an art work, 3, 19; art work functioning as, 160; commodity exchange as context for, 15; culture of detail, 13–14; Darwin and, 19, 51, 54–55, 106–7; digressive, 106; etymology of, 67–68; function of, in landscape painting, 3–4; generality in relation to, 1–2; historiography


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and, 34–35; knowledge in relation to, 67–68, 70, 183; meanings of, 2–3; in Melville’s Moby Dick, 7; negative attitudes toward, 1, 4–6, 30, 45; the picturesque and, 129; representation and, 160; science associated with, 4; significance/insignificance of, 14, 71–73, 85, 121, 193, 206n25; subordination of, to overall effect, 3, 45–46, 48– 50, 72, 182; unification of, 3, 21, 29–30, 46, 59; visual process based on, 2–3 Dia Art Foundation, 186–87, 190 Dia:Beacon, 190, 221n21 Dickens, Charles, 140 Didi-Huberman, Georges, 3, 67–68, 98, 100, 121, 160, 182, 219n81 Dodge, D. Stuart, 147 Dolnier, Kurt, Sitting Room, with “El Khasné, Petra” over the Fireplace, 165, 166 Downing, Andrew Jackson, 172 Durand, Asher B., Kindred Spirits, 129–31, 130, 133 Durand, John, 59 Dürer, Albrecht, 56 Dyer, Richard, 216n41


Eakins, Thomas, 187 earth art, 175, 181 “effect,” 3, 30 ekphrasis, 18, 66, 100, 121, 205n16 El Khasné, Petra (Church), 16, 146, 147–63; Church’s display of, 165–66, 166, 216n1; composition of, 147, 150, 160; description of, 148–49, 151, 154–55; details of, 149, 152; exhibition of, 217n1; interpretations of, 1, 152–53, 156–58, 161, 182; reception of, 156–57; tensions in, 149, 160, 215n21; verticality of, 147, 155; viewer’s experience of, 151–55 Elsner, Jas´, 18 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 4, 74 eroticism, 73, 80–81, 111 erratic boulders, 111–12 evolution, 62, 63, 103, 143 Eyre, Edward John, 140


faith. See religion and faith Field, Cyrus, 45, 202n2 Fillmore, Millard, 201n40 finish, 8 Fisher, Alvan, The Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagara, 28, 28 Flavin, Dan, 17, 185–87, 189–90, 220n7, 221n19, 221n20, 221n21; untitled (to the “innovator” ofWheeling Peachblow), 187, 188

forgetting, 32, 35, 200n23 Forrest, William, 40, 92 Foster, Hal, 190 Fowler, Alexander, 147 Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 221n21 Franklin, John, 87, 91, 107–8 Friedrich, Caspar David: The Polar Sea, 117, 117, 119; Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog, 25–26, 27 Frost, Robert, 118 Froude, James Anthony, 142


Galison, Peter, 13 Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck, 8–9, 17, 196n42 Gaudio, Michael, 10 geography, 34–35 Gifford, Sanford, 187 Gilmore, Michael, 118 God: Darwin and, 139, 183, 220n85; nature in relation to, 50, 61–62, 116, 139; in the wilderness, 119 Gombrich, Ernst, 195n22 Gottschalk, Louis Moreau, 82 Gould, Stephen Jay, 51 Goupil & Co., 77; Our Banner in the Sky (after Church), 94 Grace Church, New York City, 77, 77 Graham, Dan, 187 great flood theory, 111 Great Ice Age, 102. See also ice age theory Great Pictures, 7, 190, 195n32 Greenberg, Clement, 83, 175, 190 Grey, Asa, 203n26 grottoes, 111–13


Hakewill, James, 131 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 30 Harvey, Eleanor Jones, 8, 10, 94, 209 n18, 215n29 Hayes, Isaac, 92, 111 Heade, Martin Johnson, 166, 187, 197n59 The Heart of the Andes (Church), 5, 15–16, 51–63, 52–53, 65–85; on Art in America cover, 11, 12; comparisons to, 51, 55, 57, 80, 93, 123, 144, 156, 162; creation of, 7–8; as Darwinian painting, 51, 54–55; description of, 46–49, 55–56, 70–71; details in, 1, 2, 4, 11, 15, 58–59, 63, 66–67, 69–72, 75, 121, 134, 140; details of, xii, 55, 56, 57, 60, 61, 64, 84; exhibition of, 15, 65–66, 65, 77, 78–80, 79, 83, 92, 93–95, 95, 204n1, 205n3, 205n4, 209 n13; interpretations of, 48–49, 51, 62–63, 67–68, 73, 78–80, 102; light in, 46–50; materialism/possessiveness evoked by, 73, 76–78;


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music inspired by, 65, 81–82, 81, 208n63; and national identity, 78–80; purchase of, 77; and real-ideal relationship, 83; reception of, 8–9, 15, 59, 62–63, 65, 174; religious aspects of, 48–50, 55–56, 62–63; reproductions of, 40, 92; size of, 83, 93; sketches for, 58, 58, 178; tensions in, 59, 70–71, 206n26; viewer’s experience of, 54, 63, 65–69, 83–84, 174, 208n69; writings on, 15, 65–71 Heidegger, Martin, 200n23 Heizer, Michael, Levitated Mass, 190 Henslow, J. S., 54 Herschel, J. F. W., Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy, 203n25 high and low culture, 40–41, 201n50 Hills, Granville, House and Park from Across the Lake, Olana, 171 historical memory, 34–37 historiography: antiquarian, 32, 34; critical, 32; monumental, 15, 32; nineteenth-century popular, 34–35 Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 84–85 Holt, Thomas, 132 Holy Land, 147–48, 159 The Home Book of the Picturesque, 129, 172 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 13 horizontality, 27, 80 Hovenkamp, Herbert, 62 Howat, John, 10 Hudson River School, 179, 187, 190 Humboldt, Alexander von, 7, 13, 15, 19, 45–46, 48, 51, 54–55, 61, 178, 203n15; Cosmos, 45 Hunt, Richard Morris, 167, 170 Huntington, David, 10, 14, 161, 171, 177, 185, 196n53, 208n69, 212n5


ice age theory, 111, 210n34. See also Great Ice Age The Icebergs (Church), 5, 16, 87–121, 88–89; broadside for, 96–100, 97, 103, 105, 108, 110, 113–14, 116, 121; comparisons to, 93, 114–15, 156; description of, 90; details in, 120–21; details of, 86, 106, 107, 110, 114; exhibition of, 87, 93–96, 95, 97–98, 208n68, 209 n13; interpretations of, 1, 99–100, 102, 105–8, 111, 113–21, 211n56; and knowledge, 117–18, 121; and national identity, 87, 93–95; Noble’s After Icebergs with a Painter and, 100–105; original version of, 87, 90, 93–103; and problems of representation, 87; reception of, 90, 209 n20; religious aspects of, 90–91, 119; revision of, 105; size of, 93; sketches for, 118–19; viewer’s experience of, 96–99, 109–16, 121; writings on, 99–100 imitation, 40 Impressionism, 17

information, 2, 13 Inness, George, 5, 8 Irving, Washington, 59


Jamaica, 16, 131–34, 140–43 Jamaica Committee, 140 James, Henry, 9–10, 28–29, 40–41, 73, 165, 190 Jarves, James Jackson, 8, 29, 30, 41, 46, 74 Jefferson, Thomas, 78–80 Jordan, Guy, 206n26


Kammen, Michael, 35 Kane, Elisha Kent, 91–92 Kant, Immanuel, 13 Kelly, Franklin, 10, 194n13, 196n53 Kelly, Lawrence, 203n28 Kensett, John Frederick, 187, 197n59, 201n40; Eaton’s Neck, Long Island, 188 Key to “Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives,” 150–51, 151 Khazneh, Petra, 147–63, 215n5, 215n8 Kidd, Joseph Bartholomew, 131–33, 142, 213n23; “Belle Vue, Residence near Kingston, Stoney Hill in the Distance,” 133–34, 133, 142; “Montego Bay from Upton Hill,” 132–33, 132, 142; “Stewart Castle Estate,” 132–33, 132 Kierkegaard, Søren, 32 knowledge: The Icebergs and, 117–18, 121; information in relation to, 2, 13; Melville’s Moby Dick and, 118; role of detail in, 67–68, 70, 183; things and, 74–75 Koerner, Joseph Leo, 198n78 Kornhauser, Elizabeth, 126, 211n4, 212n5 Kriz, Kay Dian, 134 Kuspit, Donald, 191


labor, 8 Labrador, 87 landscape architecture, 166–67 landscape gardening, 168–69, 172 landscape painting: composition of, 3–4, 25, 58; plantations as subject of, 131–34; reproductions responsible for decline of, 41; as tonic for modern life, 73; traditional features of, 3–4, 16, 25, 49, 56, 147, 153, 161–63. See also The Andes of Ecuador; El Khasné, Petra; The Heart of the Andes; The Icebergs; Niagara; Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica; Church, Frederic Edwin, works by; detail Landseer, Edwin, Man Proposes, God Disposes, 116, 116 Lane, Fitz H., 197n59 Lears, Jackson, 76


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Lee, Robert E., 134 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 13 Leja, Michael, 194n17 Levine, Lawrence, 40–41, 201n50 Life (magazine), 185, 185 Lincoln, Abraham, 134 Lindquist-Cock, Elizabeth, 208n69 London Times (newspaper), 59 Lord & Taylor department store, 76–77 Lorrain, Claude, 3, 25, 58, 162, 180 Lossing, Benson J., Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, 34–35, 36 Lowenthal, David, 175 Lubin, David M., 207n46 luxury, 72–73, 79, 80 Lyell, Charles, 111; Principles of Geology, 62


MacLeod, William, 42 Macy’s department store, 76 Manet, Edouard, 17 Manthorne, Katherine, 10, 194n11 Marble Dry-Goods Palace, 76 Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, 179 Marsh, George Perkins, Man and Nature, 175–79, 218n47 materialism: artistic, 191; sociocultural, 73–75 Maury, Matthew, 91, 209n8 McKinsey, Elizabeth, 201n52 Melville, Herman, 123, 163, 216n52; Clarel, 16, 159–61; Moby Dick, 6–7, 108–9, 117–18, 159; Pierre, 159 memory: national or collective, 21, 34–35; pastiche and, 158; the picturesque and, 129. See also forgetting metaphor, in writing about art, 16, 69, 96, 100, 103–5, 107 Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, New York City, 78 middle class, 41, 198n4 Mill, John Stuart, 140 Miller, Angela, 10–11, 191, 197n55, 207n46, 209 n16 Miller, David, 117, 180 Mitchell, W. J. T., 11, 131 modernism, 17, 83, 175, 190, 211n56 monumental history, 15, 32 Moran, Thomas, 197n59 Morant Bay Rebellion, 140–41, 143 Morse, Samuel F. B., 168–69, 172 music, 81–82 Muybridge, Eadweard, Watchtower, Panama, 163, 163


National Academy of Design, 7, 155–56 nation and nationalism: Arctic exploration and, 108; Church’s works and, 10, 14; 7KH+HDUWRIWKH$QGHV The Heart of the Andes and, 78–80; historiography and, 34–35; The Icebergs and, 87, 93–95; Niagara and, 30–33, 35, 93; Niagara Falls as symbol of, 30–31 Native Americans, 35–37 nature: concepts of, 59–61; Darwin’s view of, 61, 102, 138–39; God in relation to, 50, 61–62, 116, 139; humanity’s relationship to, 175–79; in The Icebergs, 116; as a living system, 175–78; strife in, 176–77, 183 (see also struggle for existence); in Vale of St.Thomas, Jamaica, 138 Nemerov, Alexander, 18 Newfoundland, 87 Newton, Richard, 63 New-York Daily Tribune (newspaper), 90, 105 New 1HZYork