Thursday, February 07, 2013

Review: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch

Cover of the Exhibition Catalogue
All those who engage in landscape painting, particularly those who paint plein air, should beat a path to the National Gallery in London and go visit the brand new exhibition of oil sketches by American landscape painter Frederic Church which opened yesterday.

I visited it yesterday on Day 1 of the exhibition and highly recommend it. I don't think I've been quite so impressed by small plein air oil sketches in some time.

Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch is a small exhibition in Room 1 of the National Gallery.  It has some 25 oil sketches and one large oil painting by Frederic Church.

Most were done as studies for larger paintings.  They're small and yet seem to be miniature versions of the luminous landscapes so often portrayed  by Church.  His mastery of tonalism is quite exquisite.  When you get closer it's apparent that most are indeed oil sketches / studies.  However a few are much more finished works and indeed were framed and hung in his house at Olana.

To me they're a real education in how good draughtsmanship and good judgement about tonal values and colour can make even a small oil sketch an impressive work of art.

I found it fascinating that the majority are oil on paper on board or canvas. I'm not familiar with this way of working but I'm sure those that work plein air will want to take a look at the quality of the finish and the archival quality of the sketches decades later - which incidentally is excellent.

Niagara Falls, from the American Side
The large painting loaned by the National Gallery of Art in Scotland is extremely impressive.  I can imagine some oil painters could stand in front of it for quite some time absorbing the approaches he has used to pull of an absolutely stunning painting of an equally stunning scene.

The exhibition catalogue Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch is selling fast judging by the number of copies left in the adjacent shop and I'm not surprised.  It's got some excellent reproductions and costs £9.99.  You can View spreads of this book (1.7 MB PDF) 

Loans have been made to the exhibition by
  • the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York which has a collection of over 2,000 oil sketches and graphite drawings by Frederic Church
  • Olana, the estate next to the Hudson River (now a New York State Historic Site) which Church bought and developed as his home and own personal landscape.
The exhibition can be seen:

  • in Room 1 at the National Gallery (6 February – 28 April 2013)
  • Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh (11 May – 8 September 2013).
I'll be writing more about Frederic Church and the exhibition on The Art of the Landscape once I've had a chance to read the book and study Frederic Church's work some more!

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  1. How lucky to have this exhibit! I just visited the NGA in Washington DC to attend a drawing salon on the Hudson River School. We sketched in the gallery full of Hudson River School artists and it was a great afternoon... but to be able to go through this exhibit sounds so fascinating... I would love to see it, I may just have to purchase the book.

    Thanks for sharing your experience,


  2. The Niagara Falls from the American side is gorgeous and I recognized it instantly as I've been there. Beautiful how he captured the rainbow effect too!


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