In addition to my visit to the Chigusa Tea exhibition in the Sackler Gallery, I whiled away the hours at one of my all-time favorite museums, the National Gallery of Art. I always spend a great deal of time in the 18th and 19th century sections of the gallery and after spending some time with some old friends in British landscapes (J.M.W. Turner is a longtime companion), I found myself wandering into the American galleries and gazing dumbstruck at the above painting. It’s by Frederic Edwin Church, an American landscape painter from Connecticut, and was painted in 1877 on oil on canvas.
I first became acquainted with his work in an amazing exhibition at the American Art Museum back in 2012 called “The Civil War and American Art“, which featured many of his landscapes in a Civil War context. I was struck by the staggering beauty of his art, and the immensity and power of the works. As the above painting shows, his style “used extraordinary detail, romanticism, and luminism” in its depiction of a wild, idealized, uncorrupted, uninhabited nature, all of which was characteristic of the Romantic painters of the time.
There are many parts of this painting that I adore, but if I had to pick a favorite section, it might be the flock of birds in flight in the lower right side of the painting. It is actually breathtaking how realistic the birds seem in person; it’s more like a photograph than anything. Then your eyes move to the left to admire the translucent gleam on the ferns and fronds in the lower half of the painting and the varying greens on the moss and vines creeping up the trees. The ruby red throat of the bird sitting on the palm overlooking the vast river. The tiny, tiny boatman way in the distance, either coming or going from our idyllic paradise. The lushness of the whole scene is dominated by the perfect beams of light from the sun, giving the painting its name: El Rio de Luz, or the River of Light. I must have stood in front of this painting for nearly 20 minutes and could have stayed an hour more finding new things to love and appreciate about it. (Sorry, everyone: I am THAT person in the galleries who hogs up the space in front of the paintings for ages at a time. Just gently shoo me along.)
I’ll definitely be featuring more of his works in the future: he’s an art obsession of mine and he deserves to be one of yours as well, Dear Reader. See the enormous full size of the painting here or simply click on the image itself. Be careful: you might get lost in it for a time.