Audio: Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight, Mount Ktaadn
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)
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Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)

Twilight, Mount Ktaadn

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)
Twilight, Mount Ktaadn
oil on paper laid down on board
10½ x 13¾ in. (26.7 x 35 cm.)
Painted circa 1858-60.
The artist.
Louis P. Church, son of the above, by descent, 1900.
Ralph Elliot Good, brother-in-law of the above, by descent, 1943.
George Good, son of the above, by descent, 1944.
Private collection, Washington, D.C., 1982.
Sotheby's, New York, 5 December 1996, lot 99.
James W. McGlothlin, Bristol, Virginia, acquired from the above.
[With]Questroyal Fine Art, New York and Michael Altman Fine Art, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
F. Kelly, Frederic Church and the North American Landscape, 1845-1860, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1985, n.p., fig. 56, illustrated.
F. Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, pp. 104-05, fig. 68, illustrated (as Sunset).
G.L. Carr, "Mount Katahdin," Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Andover, Massachusetts, 1996, p. 345, no. 3 (as Sunset).
K. Sharp, J. Wilmerding, For Spacious Skies: Hudson River School Paintings from the Henry and Sharon Martin Collection, New Britain, Connecticut, 2005, pp. 15, 20, 44-45, no. 6, illustrated.
J. Wilmerding, Maine Sublime: Frederic Edwin Church's Landscapes of Mount Desert and Mount Katahdin, exhibition catalogue, Cornell, New York, 2012, p. 43, illustrated.

This painting has been requested for the exhibition Maine Sublime at the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery at Olana, Hudson, New York, from July to October 2013.
Washington, D.C., Adams Davidson Galleries, Washington Collects: An Exhibition of Important American Art in Washington Private Collections, February-April 1981, no. 6 (as Twilight near Mt. Ktaadn).
Washington, D.C., Adams Davidson Galleries, The Artist as Explorer: Luminist Visions of Nineteenth-Century America, October-November, 1987.
New York, Richard York Gallery, Cabinet Pictures of the Hudson River School, November 1994-January 1995.
New Britain, Connecticut, New Britain Museum of American Art, For Spacious Skies: Hudson River School Paintings from the Henry and Sharon Martin Collection, June 10-September 25, 2005, no. 6.
New York, National Academy Museum, For Spacious Skies: Hudson River School Paintings from the Henry and Sharon Martin Collection, February 9-April 30, 2006, no. 6.

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Lot Essay

Possibly no other American so faithfully captured the higher, more elusive meanings of landscape as Frederic Edwin Church, whose unmatched ability to record natural details captivated the public, and earned him a reputation for technical brilliance even as a young man. Painted at the height of his career, Twilight, Mount Ktaadn splendidly captures the majesty and promise inherent in the national landscape, the subject for which Church is most renowned. Here he simultaneously presents a powerful and grand scene of God's nature and a picture of quiet solitude, creating a profound work that is a stunning representation of the artistic, political and social influences of his day.

Church first traveled to Mount Katahdin in search of the picturesque late in the summer of 1852. The result of this trip was richly symbolic paintings such as the masterwork Mount Ktaadn (1853, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), which transformed the pure landscape into a pastoral ideal that depicts man living in harmony with nature. Dr. Franklin Kelly writes of Mount Ktaadn, "[H]is faith in the nation's destiny determined that he show a peaceful and harmless assimilation of man into the natural world. To see inland Maine as he wanted to see it, to bring it into line with his established vision of the national landscape, he had to see it as he believed it would be in the not too distant future. In 1853 he fully believed American civilization would soon find its way to the most remote corners of the continent, and he would have encouraged such progress." (Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 69)

Church returned to Maine in 1856 and subsequently turned away from the historical and arcadian images that dominated his early career, instead choosing to portray the rugged majesty of the place in works such as Twilight, Mount Ktaadn. Henry David Thoreau, who was as inspired as Church by the untamed and rugged remoteness of the Maine landscape, wrote of the place, "Perhaps I most fully realized that this was primeval, untamed, and forever untamable Nature, or whatever else men call it. Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. Here was no man's garden, but the unhandshelled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste-land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth." (as quoted in F. Kelly, Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 68) In Twilight, Mount Ktaadn, Church captures Thoreau's Nature, employing richly hued, dramatic light to convey the resplendent awe that the landscape inspired; yet he tempers the primordial wilderness, depicting a calm rather than wild scene. Kevin Sharp writes of the present work, "Twilight, Mount Ktaadn captures the heroic summit from the southeast, a view that emphasizes its solitary stature against a spectacular sky." (For Spacious Skies: Hudson River School Paintings from the Henry and Sharon Martin Collection, New Britain, Connecticut, 2005, p. 44)

With paintings such as Twilight, Mount Ktaadn, Church expresses his mature vision of the American wilderness and definitively moves beyond the work of his esteemed teacher, Thomas Cole. The vibrantly chromatic sunset is full of reverence and poignantly manifests Church's fully realized vision as the symbolic and pastoral aspects of his earlier work cede to the spiritual and sublime characteristics of the landscape. Here he builds upon his work of the earlier 1850s to establish his own American landscape, wild, pure and divine, yet still not wholly untamable.

There were several catalysts for this transition in Church's work, one of which was the changed and highly-charged political climate. Tim Barringer writes, "This is a dramatic change from the Church of a decade earlier, whose belief in the providential civilizing mission of American seemed unshakable. A possible explanation can be found in Church's deep concerns about national politics. As Church and his contemporaries perceived, the rapid expansion of the United States westward, speeded by the Mexican War of 1846-8, made clear for the first time that, even in the massive continent of North America, land would eventually run out, leading to the complete despoliation of the wilderness." (American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880, London, 2002, p. 130) There was also the impending Civil War, which was threatening to tear the country apart. Church, who was interested in politics and a staunch believer in the Unionist cause, was deeply affected by these developments and it is not surprising that he would turn to the landscape with such vigor during these challenging times. Church's response to the physical and political state of his country was to abandon the idealistic cohabitation between man and nature that had characterized his earlier scenes and replace them with a less hospitable wilderness - God's nature.

Church's travels in South America and his depictions of the dramatic topography of the place from 1853 to 1856 were also central to the transformation of his approach to the New England landscape. The result was richer, more spectacular interpretations of his native land such as the arrestingly hued Twilight, Mount Ktaadn. Dr. Franklin Kelly writes, "When he did return to the theme of the North American pastoral landscape in 1856, the results were of a very different character than his earlier efforts. In such works as Sunset of that year (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York) Church achieved a far more dramatic vision of American nature, in which wilderness now assumed the dominant role. This vision culminates, of course, in Twilight in the Wilderness of 1860 (Cleveland Museum of Art), in which all traces of man have been eliminated from the scene. In this single work, Church brought to full expression his ideas and beliefs about his native land-ideas and beliefs which were initially developed and expressed in the works from the first decade of his career." (The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845-1854, Fort Worth, Texas, 1987, p. 76)

Twilight in the Wilderness and Twilight, Mount Ktaadn are awe-inspiring portrayals of the sublime in which Church pays keen attention to atmospheric effects and utilizes the vivid colors that are associated with his best paintings. Dr. Franklin Kelly writes of the present work, "This particular sketch is close in spirit to Twilight in the Wilderness, especially in its glowing band of yellow color broken with luminous bars of green, blue, and orange just above the mountainous horizon." (Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 104) Indeed, both paintings depict a single peak bathed in glorious light that raises heroically from an impenetrable landscape cloaked in the shrouds of early evening.
Tim Barringer writes of the larger work, which is equally applicable to the present work, "Years of observing and sketching the sunset--most fugitive of effects--had provided Church with the knowledge to orchestrate a spectacular sky, in which an extraordinary range of tones from blood red to cadmium yellow, from a brilliant blue to a pale golden yellow-green, are combined with perfect assurance. Drawing of his experience of Turner's works, such as Staffa, Fingal's Cave and Fort Vimieux (Private Collection), which were in the New York collection of James Lenox, Church creates an enveloping sense of atmosphere which unifies his composition." (American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880, p. 129) While the landscape of Twilight in the Wilderness is more impenetrable than that of Twilight, in each work Church tempers the primordial wilderness, imbuing each scene with a sense of tranquility that recalls his pastoral landscapes of the 1850s. Church's deliberate transformation of the landscape that he witnessed in these celebrations of nature's majesty continues his earlier message of the inherent promise of the land.

The invention of cadmium paints during this period, which Church enthusiastically adopted, is fundamental to the success of his twilight pictures, as it allowed him to explore more brilliant light effects than his predecessors. Twilight, Mount Ktaadn is a highly sophisticated oil study in which Church explores these effects, and, indeed, the central focus of the work is on the sky and not the landscape. In the vibrant, broadly brushed bands of color we see a pre-cursor to modernism in America and a movement away from the topographically centered art that dominated the 19th century. With studies such as the present work, Church transcended his time to explore pure painting--a spontaneous application of color that is meant to capture the ephemeral moment of dusk and its transitory light and color effects.

Perhaps the leading American painter of his day, Church's successes made him a paradigm of the modern artists hailed by Henry Tuckerman, the nineteenth-century art historian. In his 1849 book, Sketches of Eminent American Painters, Tuckerman cites the work of a new generation of artists (Church among them) who were "distinguished by a feeling for nature which has made landscape, instead of mere imitation, a vehicle for great moral impressions." In his quest to capture the nation's identity and moral fiber through its landscape, Church returned time and again to the twilight subject. In Twilight, Mount Ktaadn, he offers a new kind of painting, one that departs from the past, particularly from Cole, and points to a new understanding of American identity, and of America's place in the New World.


Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Mt. Ktaadn, 1853, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 55 1/4 in. (92.1 x 140.3 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Stanley B. Resoe, B.A. 1901, Fund

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860, oil on canvas, 40 x 64 in. © The Cleveland Museum of Art. Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1965.233

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