Think famous landscape painters and our very own Turner, Constable and Gainsborough spring to mind as well as the Impressionists and Caneletto. There is such a wealth of talented European artists, it’s easy to ignore what was happening across the pond.
This exhibition seeks to remedy that a little by showing us the works of Frederic Church, a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters — a 19th century set of Romantic artists who captured the beauty of America’s vast wilderness.
Church’s attention to detail is astounding, the intricacy in ‘Campfire’ and ‘Forest Pool’ is so exact that even intense staring won’t find any flaws. He captures a sunrise so perfectly it seems to enfold the visitor in its warm glow.
To show that he can be inventive as well, Church has used the clouds reddened by the sunset mixed with starlight to create a version of the United States flag in the sky — it’s remarkably executed and so subtle it could easily be missed on a first glance.
The crowning piece of this exhibition is a vast painting of the Niagara Falls where the mist swirling up from the cascade catches the sunlight in a powerfully idyllic scene. Compared to this show the accompanying European landscapes in a facing gallery are decidedly tame and uninspiring.
Church may not have been as experimental or as radical as his European or Canadian contemporaries but these are a set of sensational landscapes painted by a skilled hand.
Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch is on display at the National Gallery, Room 1 until 28 April. Admission is free.