Frederic Edwin Church | The Heart of the Andes

Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes

Frederic Edwin Church
 (1826–1900) The Heart of the Andes, 1859
Oil on canvas, 66⅛ x 119¼ inches
Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909, 09.95

An enormous canvas spanning ten feet in length, The Heart of the Andes is Church’s largest, most ambitious painting and most popular work, and represents a major aesthetic movement within the Hudson River School. A great traveler and a student of the natural sciences, Church successfully merged the romantic inclinations and attention to natural detail of the Hudson River School artists with an attention to scientific accuracy, particularly in the painting’s numerous botanical, geological, and climatological details. This works represents the culmination of expeditions to Colombia in 1853 and Ecuador in 1857, trips inspired by the writings and exhortations of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt conceived the equatorial landscape of the New World as a microcosm of the planet, with a unique range of climatic zones, from the jungles to the perpetually snowy peaks of the Andean mountain range.

The Heart of the Andes encapsulates the wonders of Church’s travels, featuring the lush vegetation that he would have carefully observed and recorded, as well as the peaks of Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador looming in the distance. Within a classical landscape format, the artist conveys the sheer variety of earthly life. At its unveiling in 1859, The Heart of the Andes was housed in a huge frame and illuminated by concealed skylights in a darkened room. Twelve thousand people paid the admission price of a quarter to view the work in New York, before it was transported to Great Britain, and later returned on an American tour. It continued to tour until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Church eventually sold the painting for $10,000, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist at that time.