Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)
signed and dated 'F.E Church/-63' (lower left)
oil on canvas tacked over board
13¾ x 22½ in. (33 x 57.2 cm.)
The artist.
William Henry Osborn, (probably) acquired from the above.
William Church Osborn, by descent.
Frederick Church Osborn, by descent.
Alice Osborn (Brown) Breese, by descent.
By descent to the present owners.
(Possibly) "City Intelligence," New York Evening Post, February 4, 1863, p. 3.
(Possibly) "Fine Arts," New York Evening Post, February 5, 1863, p. 2.
(Possibly) Atticus, "Art Feuilleton," New York Leader, February 7, 1863, vol. IX, no. 6, p. 1.
Huey, et al., Wilderness & Spirit: A Mountain Called Katahdin, documentary film, Maine, 2002, featured (as Mount Katahdin).
B. Bloemink, et al., Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2006, pp. 64, 73, fig. 85, illustrated (as Mount Katahdin).
(Possibly) New York, Tenth Street Studio, February 1863.
Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, 1992-2011, on loan (as Mount Katahdin).
Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Frederic Edwin Church: In Search of the Promised Land, October 21, 2000-January 3, 2001 (as Mount Katahdin).

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, in 1863, Twilight is a masterwork in which Church captures the majesty and promise inherent in the national landscape, the subject for which he is most renowned. Here he simultaneously presents a powerful and grand scene of God's nature and a picture of quiet solitude, creating a deeply profound work that is a superb representation of the artistic, political and social influences of his day.

Church first turned away from the historical and arcadian images that dominated his early career in the 1850s, inspired by the rugged majesty of Northern New England. The result 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)

It was not, however, until the late 1850s that Church definitively moved away from the work of his esteemed teacher, Thomas Cole. In the confident and robust Twilight, Church expresses his mature vision of the American wilderness, one that is full of reverence. The scene is a composite influenced by the landscape surrounding Mount Katahdin and the richly hued, dramatic sunset poignantly manifests Church's fully realized vision as the symbolic and the pastoral cedes to spiritual and the sublime. Here he builds upon his work of the 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 America 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 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 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. Here Church employs dramatic, richly colored light to convey the resplendent awe that the landscape inspired in a more powerful composition than his earlier New England landscapes. 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 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. 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 rugged 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. While not as overtly symbolic as the earlier works, Church hints at the presence of man with the inclusion of a sailboat on the tranquil lake. Here man is integrated into the scene and dwarfed by nature's majesty, a reminder of the power and divinity of the American landscape.

The importance of Twilight in Church's oeuvre is underscored by its provenance, having belonged to William Henry Osborn, who was one of Church's great patrons and also a close friend. Osborn was the son-in-law of famed collector and patron, Jonathan Sturges, who commissioned some of the most celebrated works of Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and others. Christiane I. Oaklander writes of the relationship between Church and Osborn, "If Jonathan Sturges had been a close friend of Durand, W.H. Osborn was even closer to Frederic Church. We do not know how they met, but it may have been through Sturges. Osborn and Church were contemporaries, as were their wives...Isabel and Frederic Church made the Osborns' New York town house their winter home when they were not traveling to warmer climates." ("Jonathan Sturges, W.H. Osborn, and William Church Osborn: A Chapter in American Art Patronage" in Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 43, 2008, p. 181) Osborn owned several paintings by Church including Andes of Ecuador (1855, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), Chimborazo (1864, Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California) and The Aegean Sea (1877, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

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, 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.

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frederic Edwin Church's oil paintings being prepared by Dr. Gerald L. Carr.

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