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Frederic Edwin Church
Oil on canvas

40 x 90 1/2 inches
Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund)

Corcoran Museum of Art

Excerpt from National Gallery of Art - Corcoran Gallery of Art:


Niagara’s tremendous success both in the United States and abroad secured Frederic Edwin Church’s reputation as the most famous American painter of his time. The acquisition of Niagara by the young Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1876 secured the institution’s reputation and inspired other major artists to seek representation in the collection.

In the 19th century, many American artists attempted to capture the power and beauty of Niagara Falls. Widely considered the nation’s greatest natural wonder as well as a symbol of its youthful vigor and promise, the site was also deemed far superior to any natural phenomenon in Europe. Church’s majestic 1857 canvas reveals the vista from the Canadian shore, based on oil and pencil sketches he had made during several visits to the site in 1856. He was the first to render the spectacle on such a grand scale, with such fine detail, naturalism, and immediacy. He heightened the illusion of reality by selecting a non-traditional format of canvas with a width twice as wide as its height to convey the panoramic expanse of the scene. Moreover, he pushed the plane of the falls nearest the viewer significantly downward to reveal more of the far side as well as the dramatic rush of water. Most notably, he eliminated any suggestion of a foreground, allowing the viewer to experience the scene as if precariously positioned on the brink of the falls. As one writer enthusiastically noted, "this is Niagara, with the roar left out!"

Critics and public alike marveled at the painting, which debuted in a one-painting exhibition at a New York City gallery shortly after its completion. The 25-cent admission allowed each visitor to view the monumental canvas, sometimes using binoculars or other optical aids to enhance the experience. The admission price also included a pamphlet reprinting critics’ praises of the canvas and offered exhibition-goers the opportunity to purchase a chromolithograph of the painting. Within two weeks, Niagara had lured 100,000 visitors to glimpse what one newspaper critic described as "the finest oil picture ever painted on this side of the Atlantic." Following its phenomenal success in New York, the painting was exhibited in major cities along the eastern seaboard, made two tours of Britain, and was included in the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris.


Additional Information:

Frederic Edwin Church: Biography on Art in Context

Frederic Edwin Church: Related Links on Art in Context


Frederic Edwin Church, American, (1826-1900)
b. May 4, 1826, Hartford, CT
d. 1900

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