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Twilight in the Wilderness

Twilight in the Wilderness

Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860, Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900) oil on canvas, Framed: 124 x 185 x 13 cm (48 13/16 x 72 13/16 x 5 1/16 in); Unframed: 101.6 x 162.6 cm (40 x 64 in). Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1965.233 The Cleveland Museum of Art

When Fredric Edwin Church completed this painting in his New York Studio, he was envisioning Mount Katahdin in Maine 2 years prior. Like many of Churches masterpieces, Twilight in the Wilderness was created after church had traveled and documented the particular site. The sketches and oil drawings that Church compiles over his stay, wherever he is, allows him to replicate scenes in nature in a unique, yet scientific way. The progression each one of Church’s scenes goes through ensures that the finest details are represented. Yet at the same time one can overlook these small details while focusing on the vast landscape in front of them.

One of Church’s tendencies in his work is to focus on the sublime of nature in comparison to the insignificant man. In his other works, such as Niagara, the sheer size of the falls and the drop of the horizon in background give the viewer a true sense of nature’s size. In this painting, Church positions the large mountain range behind the finer details visible in the foreground. The effect gives the onlooker a unique way of viewing the painting, as well as adding to the idea of the sublime. The fine details in the foreground show what we, as the viewer, would be able to interact with. The mountains however are untouched, large, and mysterious. This relationship gives the viewer the sense of America’s pristine and vast natural landscape that is both known and unknown. It’s the feeling that the mountains continue infinitely into spaces humans cannot and will not be able to see that creates the images sublimity.

The color schemes and artistic techniques utilized by Church add an aspect of scientific realism to his paintings. It is clear, in the color selection, that Church is utilizing the sun as the only source of light for his painting. We see the amber glow of the sunset peering through the clouds, as well as a low orange-yellow glow in the background. The sunset is cloaking nightfall, as the last hour of sunlight pierces through the clouds and shimmers on the lake[1]. The exactness to nature is a key factor when Church chose his colors for the painting. Church was in tune with nature and this sunset is an example of how he emulated the scenes he saw. The colors also add to Church’s message of nature’s sublimity. In particular, Church’s use of light asserts the meaning that wilderness is vast yet obscure, beautiful, but untouchable[2]. Like the positioning of the mountains, the use of light and dark, allows church to illuminate aspects of foreground he wanted to show and darken areas of the background that he wanted to make obscure.

Some who view this painting believe it has a message hidden within, separate from the idea of the sublime. In particular, some link the idea of the twilight or a transition in the wilderness, as America’s transition into the Civil War[3]. The painting was finished in 1860, right near the cusp of the Civil War. It was not a secret that people knew war was inevitable between the North and the South. Thus it is plausible to think that the transition of this wilderness scene into the night represents America’s transition into conflict.

By Thomas Williams, Marist ’17


Dunn, Sarah. “Depicting a Sublime Wilderness,” Art History. March 13, 2017.

Cole, Mark, “Twilight in the Wilderness: A Close Look at an American Masterpiece,” Cleveland Art . March 23rd, 2017.

[1] Mark Cole, “Twilight in the Wilderness: A Close Look at an American Masterpiece,” Cleveland Art , March 23rd, 2017,

[2] Sarah Dunn, “Depicting a Sublime Wilderness,” Art History, March 13, 2017,

[3] Mark Cole, “Twilight in the Wilderness: A Close Look at an American Masterpiece,” Cleveland Art , March 23rd, 2017,

Frederic Church’s “Niagara”


Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, 40 x 90 inches

Fredric Edwin Church’s major influence on the world was not his ability as an innovative painter or a teacher, instead, his reputation is derived from his renditions of well-known sites and exotic locations. In particular, Church followed the process that other 19th century artists followed, using graphite drawings and oil sketches to complete the final painting. The marker that set Church apart from these other artists, however, was his use of dramatic lighting and intriguing details that played into his brilliant marketing strategies when selling his work.[1]

Niagara, painted in 1857, represents this process Church refined that made both his paintings and his personal life successful. The painting reveals the falls from the Canadian shores and was an attempt to capture what many believed to be a natural setting superior to any in Europe.[2] The dimensions of the painting contribute to its appeal, in that its width is twice as wide as its height, allowing his vast panoramic details to show through. The dimensions of the falls itself gives the onlooker a unique view. Church drops the nearest side of the falls down to allow the viewer a clear view of the waterfall on the other side. If you look deeper into the painting the immense detail that church uses is seen in every small wave. This attention to detail gave Church the reputation as the first to render the falls with such detail, naturalism, on such a grand scale.[3] Also contributing to the painting is the horizontal landscape in the background. This gives the viewer the effect of the sheer scale of the falls itself, playing into the natural wonder that Niagara Falls was at the time.

Niagara Falls, although in Canada, represented to many at the time the strength and power of the New World. The citizens of the United States considered the falls better than anything in Europe and felt empowered by Churches grandiose panorama painting of the falls. When the painting was completed in 1857, Church decided to exhibit his work at a one-painting show at the New York commercial art gallery of Williams, Steven, and Williams.[4] The first two weeks of its exhibition brought more than 100,000 visitors who were willing to spend the 25 cent charge and see what became an ‘American Image’.[5]

After successful exhibitions across New York, Church would take the painting to various cities along the east coast, as well as Paris and London. Church the businessman contribute to the success of the painting by generating additional revenue through the sale of chromolithographs of the painting. The popularity of Niagara made Church a wealthy man as well as a famous American painter. The unique abilities of Fredric Edwin Church set him apart from other artists, not just in art but also in life. While many artists of the day struggled to find success during their lives, Church established a reputation and a demand for his work that ensured a comfortable life.

The painting is currently located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C, particularly in the Corcoran Collection section of the museum.

  • Thomas Williams, Marist ’17


Doherty, M. Stephen. Oil Painting: Fredric Edwin Church. Artist Daily. February 28, 2017.

Niagra (1857). National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017.

Zygmont, Brian. Church, Niagara and Heart of the Andes.  Khan Academy. February 28, 2017.


[1] M. Stephen Doherty, “Oil Painting: Fredric Edwin Church,” Artist Daily, February 28, 2017,

[2]  “Niagara (1857),” National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017,

[3]  “Niagara (1857),” National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017,

[4] Bryan Zygmont, “Church, Niagara and Heart of the Andes,” Khan Academy, February 28, 2017,

[5] Ibid.

Church’s painting “Cotopaxi,” and the Civil War


Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 85 inches, 1862


Hudson Valley Films Debuting in 2017: A Preview


From the movie moment that gave the film “cliffhanger” its name—the fictional Pauline’s brush with death on the New Jersey Palisades in the 1914 silent film The Perils of Pauline—to today, the area surrounding the Hudson River has been a popular spot for film production.  The Hudson Valley Film Commission’s website contains a multitude of behind-the-scenes photos from films shot primarily or partly in the Hudson River Valley, from War of the Worlds to The Night Listener.  This year, three Hudson Valley-based projects, including two that have already been released nationally, will give the Valley some recognition in the cinematic world.


Growing Up Smith is the story of a family from India making a new start in the 1979 United States, focusing especially on the family’s ten-year-old son, Smith.  The screenwriter, Paul Quinn, spent much of his life in the Hudson Valley, and though the film takes place in the Midwest, much of it was shot in Kingston.  Jason Lee, two-time Golden Globe nominee for My Name is Earl (and also Syndrome in The Incredibles, which I find far more notable), plays Smith’s neighbor.  The film won Best Feature Narrative Audience Award at the 2015 Woodstock Film Fest.



Stray Bullets is a thriller, the feature-film debut of its sixteen-year-old director, Jack Fessenden.  The film was shot over a period of sixteen days in July 2015, in several Hudson River Valley towns, including Kingston, Woodstock, and Marbletown.  Stray Bullets is the story of two teens who come across a trio of criminals in an abandoned mobile home.  Both Jack and his father, actor/director Larry Fessenden, have roles in the film.


THE AWAKENING is an independent film that was shot primarily in Liberty, in Sullivan County.  It’s a supernatural thriller about a soldier whose son develops preternatural powers and mystically uncovers information about a missing resident of the town.  It wrapped up filming at the end of 2016, and its producer, Michael Goodin, had nothing but good things to say about the film’s Hudson Valley shooting location, calling Sullivan “the most film-friendly county I’ve seen.”  The film stars Tammy Blanchard, a Golden Globe nominee who had roles in Moneyball and Into the Woods.


Growing Up Smith and Stray Bullets were both released nationally in February: the former on the 3rd and the latter on the 10thThe Awakening is scheduled for release at the end of 2017.

  • Meghan Jones, Marist ’17

*You can read about past movies shot in the Hudson River Valley here.