If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:45

Video transcript

[Music] we're here in the storage room at the Terra Foundation for American art looking at a rather late painting by an important 19th century American landscape painter Frederic Church this is the iceberg it's a take on an earlier subject for church like many of his pictures of this period and we know around 1875 76 he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis so his ability to paint was becoming more and more circumscribed Church was a student of Thomas Cole so we think of the Hudson River School and the painting of upstate New York Church built on Cole's model in the grand scale of the American landscape from there the church began to look for other sources of inspiration and he was led to the writings of the German scientists Alexander von Humboldt who had earlier travelled to South America and studied the volcanoes of Ecuador in the surrounding areas these studies would become the source material for his popular publications and church was an avid reader of Humboldt these led him to first embark on a period of study in South America eventually making two trips to study in Colombia and in Ecuador and then after caught up in the spirit of the age and all of the avid interests in the Arctic he made a trip in 1859 to the coast of Newfoundland where he hoped to observe icebergs when he's on these travels he's doing studies intense study of both what is seen what is not seen and then a return to the studio to begin to blend together the various scenes into these grand composite canvases his sojourn in the Arctic resulted in the grand painting called the icebergs of 1861 a very large painting a very ambitious painting Church put that painting on display as a single painting exhibition interestingly when he is painting his later works in the 1870s and into the 80s there is a particular tendency to revisit sites of his famous conquest in South America in the Mediterranean region in the Arctic and you reassemble his sketches for one last attempt to capture the beauty of those far-flung landscapes this does feel like a painting based in memory we know that when he was on this voyage to the Arctic he was on a schooner that he took a rowboat to get closer to the icebergs and so when I look at this painting I imagine church as an older man thinking back to those voyages reminiscing maybe even a sense of nostalgia of longing to take those trips once again it is a reflective work and I think it is synthesizing not only bringing together his various views from this trip to the Arctic but also incorporating aspects of his treatment of light that is characteristic of many of his major works from Jerusalem from the Parthenon the lighting of that central iceberg of course we're seeing this at Twilight at dusk the Sun is going down is just catching the last tips of the upper echelon of this singular iceberg when we look back at churches famous 1861 composition the icebergs we see multiple ice formations in that picture and all we can see is ice here there has a horizon beyond this iceberg that the viewer can take in a distancing effect giving us a broader perspective with many of the details softened so to speak we are at a time in American history where there's growing awareness of the value of the natural environment the way that's being rapidly transformed by industrialization and the need for protection of these really beautiful natural places it's during these decades that the US government is beginning to set aside land for the preservation of what become national parks there is a growing awareness in the 1860s and 70s of man's impact on the earth I always read the reduced scale of this iceberg as pointing in that direction where as the earlier picture in 1861 is filled with ice here that iceberg has strung Kanab it and certainly speaks to our early 21st century sensibility about the thawing of the icebergs of the rise of ocean waters and I think it poignant Lee reminds us of our impact on the earth and its delicate balance [Music]