February Object of the Month – The Hudson Valley in Winter from Olana
This month we feature another spectacular winter scene from Frederic Church’s hand. This one, The Hudson Valley in Winter from Olana, evokes the winter drapery recently acquired on site within the last two weeks!
Frederic Church and his family were at times in winter residence during the early decades at Olana, and the artist likely sketched this scene during one of those stays.
Easily recognizable as the quintessential view from Olana, this sketch depicts the prospect from the location of Church’s 1864 studio, which he designed and worked in prior to acquiring the hilltop; capping it with his Persian-inspired fantasy. The studio —built on the highest point of ground owned by the artist at that time, occupied a spot which offered a spectacular vista southwest down the hillside with Quarry Hill to the right; the farm area to the left; the future location of the lake by the leafless trees and in the distance, and the opening in the Hudson—often called “the bend in the river”. Late in life, Church eventually tore down the studio himself, but signage marks its location today, and the view is still breathtaking.
In a letter jokingly dated “Siberia Jan. 1, 1866” Church describes the joy of experiencing a winter blizzard while on the property with his family: “We have been snow bound to a certain extent Saturday and Sunday entirely. We enjoyed the tremendous storm. . . ” Here, Church captures the results of such a storm, illuminated by a break in the weather and a bit of glow to the wintery sky.
This oil sketch has significance to Olana beyond Church reveling in the changing conditions of his personal landscape and his fixing them down in this fine artwork. In the 1970s, this painting helped prevent a nuclear power plant from being built directly in Olana’s viewshed. It served as evidence in hearings associated with this threat. The nationally significant views from Olana caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff to recommended denial of a construction license for the proposed nuclear power plant. This was the first and only time in the United States that such a recommendation involving a nuclear power plant had been made on environmental or aesthetic grounds.