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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.

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