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The Heart of the Andes, by Frederick Edwin Church

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Heart of the Andes is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1926, Frederick Edwin Church was a famous American landscape painter whose vision and talent contribute to his place within the pantheon of Hudson Valley School of Art painters. Known for painting large-scale landscape paintings, Church’s masterpieces typically contained dramatic settings which are evident in his paintings The Parthenon, Twilight in the Wilderness, or Our Banner in the Sky. These famous paintings often featured beautiful scenic mountains, waterfalls, or sunsets, which gave each of his works a different vibe and feeling, however all of these paintings pale in comparison to The Heart of the Andes.

Church’s most famed piece of work, The Heart of the Andes, was painted in 1859 and its medium is oil on canvas. This scenic landscape painting is about 5′ 6″ x 9′ 11″ and displays the beauty and grandeur of the South American Mountain range.[1] While some of Church’s paintings feature wide brushstrokes with sweeping colors, The Heart of the Andes is a more intricately detailed piece, as the entire painting is incredibly realistic. This painting features a waterfall scene in front of the majestic Andes Mountains with a small, almost unnoticeable village at the foot of the mountains. This painting’s color scheme seems to consist of mainly earthy tones as it is a realistic landscape painting, however it also features a few pops of color which draws the onlooker’s eyes to different points. One of these color pops would be the bright red shirt and the blue jacket of two people standing in front of a cross, which guides our attention to the small religious symbol, while another would be the red and blue flowers located on the lower right side of the painting which allows our eyes to fall upon the extremely detailed foreground.

By using small pops of color Church is able to draw onlooker’s focus into certain parts of his painting, and he does this intentionally as a way to get certain messages across. This particular painting seems to play with the theme of religion as it features a cross, which is either a grave or shrine. In addition to this small symbol of Christianity, Church’s painting depicts the beauty of nature when it is untouched by man, and because of this it pays tribute to God’s awesome creation. This painting, aside from a small town nestled in the center and the two people kneeling by the cross, is free of human influence and therefore displays nature in its raw form. That being said, while there are two people featured in this piece of artwork, they obviously are not the focal point of this piece as they are minuscule in comparison to the grand natural features that surround them. In this way, Church demonstrates that while people exist and are important, we pale in comparison to God’s handiwork.

In addition to depicting religious undertones, Church’s painting also presents a nationalistic view of the Americas. By painting the beauty that surrounds anyone lucky enough to reside in either of the New World, Church is able to proudly show off the awesomeness of this “new” land. This almost 10 foot long painting showed the impressive dramatic landscapes that made up the America’s, and because of this many who look upon Church’s painting feel a sense of pride in the Americas as they look on in awe at the natural beauty of their land.

The Heart of the Andes makes onlookers feel as if they are gazing out a window onto this magnificent scene, and because of this, this piece of art gives off a peaceful and serene vibe. The light reflecting off the water gives the appearance of a new day beginning and fills with me a hopeful feeling, and because of this I can see the allure this of this painting and why it is arguably Church’s most famous piece. Members of the Hudson Valley School of Art depicted the beauty of the world around them with their unique paintings, and Frederick Edwin Church’s Heart of the Andes perfectly displays these ideals.

– Debbie Boerke

[1] “Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Birthday May 4 – Wolf Fine Art – Colorado Springs.” Wolf Fine Art Colorado Springs RSS. 2012. Accessed November 01, 2016.

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