Past Exhibitions

Capturing the Cosmos: Frederic Church painting Humboldt’s Vision of Nature

  • Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery
  • May 15 - October 30, 2016
Frederic Edwin Church, “Mount Chimborazo at Sunset” (detail), c. July 1857, oil on academy board mounted to canvas, 12 x 21 7/16in., Collection Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Capturing the Cosmos, the 2016 exhibition in the Sharp Family Gallery, explored the influence of the great German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt on Frederic Church. Acclaimed and revered during his own lifetime, Humboldt is currently enjoying a renaissance due to the recent award-winning bio The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt’s writings inspired Church’s South American adventures and the resulting masterpieces that made him internationally famous, and informed Church’s later trips to Germany’s Bavarian Lakes and Mexico. Sketches, diaries and artifacts from these trips trace Church’s daring escapades to capture Humboldt’s Cosmos.



Church’s Cosmos

Essay by Eleanor Jones Harvey

Of all the American artists inspired by Alexander von Humboldt, Frederic Edwin Church was perhaps the most astute in his blending of art and science in the service of landscape painting that was simultaneously topographically accurate and aesthetically stimulating. In the second volume of his Cosmos, Humboldt might well have been speaking directly to Church when he wrote,
“Landscape painting, though not simply an imitative art, has a more material origin and a more earthly limitation. It requires for its development a large number of various and direct impressions which, when received from external contemplation must be fertilized by the powers of the mind, in order to be given back to the sense as a fine work of art. The grander style of heroic painting
is the combined result of a profound appreciation of nature and of this inward process of the mind.” Read More

Humboldt and Church

Essay by Andrea Wulf 

The last days of April 1859 saw long lines of people snaking around the block of Manhattan’s Tenth Street. Many had waited for hours to pay the 25 cent entrance fee to the new Studio Building to see a painting called The Heart of the Andes by the young American artist Frederic Edwin Church. The crowds were so large that several policemen were dispatched to keep order on the street. Inside, Church had displayed his painting dramatically in a huge frame surrounded by drapes in a dark room with only the canvas illuminated. Visitors were asked to bring opera glasses so that they could see the intricate details of the enormous painting. Read More

Sponsorship Information

This exhibition is organized by The Olana Partnership and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Trustees and staff of The Olana Partnership wish to recognize the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey; Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation Ruth Pierpont; Regional Director, Taconic Region Linda Cooper; Director of the Bureau of Historic Sites Christopher Flagg; and Olana Site Manager Kimberly Flook.

With additional support provided by public funds from the Museum Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.