New Yorkers Experience South America through Art

Few North Americans stimulated more curiosity about South America than did New York artist Frederic Edwin Church. Church traveled twice to present-day Ecuador and Colombia in the 1850s to explore the equatorial region and capture its magnificence in paint. Upon returning to his Manhattan studio he produced Cayambe (1858). Next Church painted Heart of the Andes (1859), a mammoth work that went on public display in New York and then around the nation.
 
Church’s paintings spurred the imaginations of North Americans. His vast and beautiful Andean scenes inspired spiritual contemplation. His flora and fauna captivated followers of 19th-century science who believed that here was a microcosm of all the world’s creations. His landscapes, largely emptied of human settlement, enthused others with dreams of virgin land ripe for development. To North Americans eager for an introduction to South America and convinced that progress followed in their wake, it was an exhilarating and inviting mix.

Frederic Edwin Church (United States, 1826–1900), Cayambe, 1858. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, The Robert L. Stuart Collection, on permanent loan from the New York Public Library, S-91 Frederic Edwin Church, a leader of what is now known as the Hudson River School, was already respected for his landscape paintings when he left for South America in 1857. Soon after his return, sugar refiner Robert L. Stuart (later president of the American Museum of Natural History), commissioned him to paint Cayambe. Many New Yorkers imagined the lands to their south as Church depicted them here: sublime scenery, brimming with natural specimens, and located far from “civilization.”
Frederic Edwin Church (United States, 1826–1900), Cayambe, 1858. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, The Robert L. Stuart Collection, on permanent loan from the New York Public Library, S-91
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