Fredrick Edwin Church was one of the American artists who were inspired to make a painting of the Niagara Falls. This was because the tourist attraction site was considered the country’s supreme natural wonder and thus artists wanted to display their best impressions of the feature. Many people had visited the location and marveled at its sheer enormity. They were also awed by its strength and size thereby making any work of art about the spot to generate a lot of public interest (Kirwin 2). As a result, artists tried to outdo each other in making the most suitable depictions of the Niagara Falls in the hope that they would gain national recognition and prominence in their other works. However, Fredrick Church emerged as the best painter by creating a striking painting that captured all the real life attributes of the famous Niagara Falls.
The above artist painted this canvas in 1857 and his depiction was from the view of the shores of Canada. It was unveiled at the Williams, Stevens and Williams’ commercial gallery in New York City where lovers of art paid 25 cents each to view it. Opera glasses and other optical aids were used to facilitate the experience and viewers were given pamphlets that contained critical praise of the art, as well as the chance to buy a chromolithograph of the canvas. The exhibition was a success in New York and that made it to be shown in the eastern seaboard including Britain and Paris. Almost 100,000 visitors had seen the picture within a fortnight of its debut and this contributed to its fame.
The artist did not use a foreground in the painting and this made the viewer to feel as though he/she was in the waterfall. In fact, observers felt as though they were on the edge of the cliff overlooking the massive falls and this was its main attraction. The canvas was huge and the colors of the water and sky provided a contrast that made the work resemble the reality. In addition, the painting used the space evenly on the canvas and the texture had some rough edges to correspond to the contours of the cliffs (Kerr 6). Similarly, the shade used was an alternate bold and light coloration to give an illusion of depth, which amplified the strength of the water. Images nearer to the eye were large as well to show the vastness of the Niagara Falls since the objects became smaller towards the background. Fine details such as water droplets were visible and this made the piece appealing as such contents caught the attention of the attendees.
Furthermore, the sky had some hazy clouds to symbolize the start of dusk and that provided the canvas with a balance of the picture that was relatable. The terrain of the landscape was equally rugged where rubble is found and smooth on the slopes of the waterfall to signify the diverse ecosystem surrounding the site. This managed to draw the viewer to the painting and gave the exact impression that a person would get if he/she physically visited the spot. Even plumes of smoke billowed from the water to display a splash that is similar to the character of the real waterfall. The art’s appearance was grand and was intentionally designed to appease the viewer (Kirwin 1). Therefore, it offered a panoramic view of the physical feature. The inclusion of the sweep of Horseshoe was done to offer a balance between light and water. Similarly, the glow of the rainbow was luminous and the large water mass portrayed mobility in a sense that conveyed a message of action. This was particularly striking as it immersed the onlooker on the painting thereby making it interactive.
Thomas Cole had also tried his hand at painting the famous waterfall. Through his Distant View of Niagara Falls, he was able to romanticize the site by including colorful flowers along the boulders. This was absent from Church’s art and it made the painting lovely (Kerr 6). Furthermore, the fauna was diverse to show the potential richness of the area surrounding the falls. This was explored further by the presence of two people on a cliff overlooking the Niagara Falls in a sign of habitation of the spot. Thus, it is different from the arid terrain presented by Church’s from the American Side. Likewise, the colors used were brighter with an overriding red theme while the dark ones were closely shaded to provide an allure of mystery. Unlike Fredrick’s painting, Cole’s artwork exhibited a shallower and minimal waterfall that did not have too much intensity. However, there were similarities such as the gush of the water and the presence of vegetation nearby.
The 1807 Niagara Falls from the Upper Bank of the British Side painting by John Trumbull offered a sketchier outlook of the feature as it examined it from a different angle (Bears 11). Aside from the vegetation cover also found in Church’s canvas, it contained four conspicuous trees in the foreground and a much shorter width of the waterfall. Similarly, the colors were dull and predominantly green while the sky was pale in comparison to the original piece by Church. This made the image unattractive since it had no compelling element. The color of the water was slightly discolored in contrast to the glowing illustration in Fredrick’s case as well. While the boulders were a bit longer in length, the Niagara Falls from the American Side ones were far wider. There too was too much emphasis dedicated to the sky as it covered a significant portion of the canvas. The moisture from the water was also pronounced and that instantly drew a reaction from viewers.
Similarly, John Vanderlyn had painted his own impression of the feature in 1802. The choice of colors was not evident and that made it lackluster. His from Table Rock piece had less vegetation while the water was bubblier than that in Church’s art and that made it more glamorous. The cliffs displayed were stronger and outlined more hence showing a sturdy structure unfamiliar to that of Church. Nevertheless, there was a clear foreground, middle ground and background that coincided with its lack in the latter’s work of art. The sky was clearer as well and some images darker in certain regions thus achieving a three-dimensional painting. The land mass over which the water flows before tipping into the falls was wider than that of Church and that made it impressive to look at. Likewise, the shape and direction of the clouds created a feeling of windiness, which added to the delicate environmental weather condition of the picture too. However, it contained images of people and these were traits missing from the Fredrick Church artwork (Borealis 3).
Nicolino Calyo’s exhibition was largely different to that of Church in so many aspects. The people in the art were dangerously close to the waterfall and the boulders depicted were bigger. The vegetation appeared to have withered as opposed to the lush foliage of the Niagara Falls from the American Side. The ebbs of the water were more defined as they took the shape of the contours hence providing eye-catching moments. The torrents could actually be seen and they made the viewer to feel that he/she was looking at the real waterfall as well. In addition, there were shadows of various objects that marked a difference in the time shown in the painting making Calyo’s to be seen as being towards evening. It also had the images of buildings in the distant horizon symbolizing closeness to civilization that is missing in the other piece.
Similarly, Hyppolyte Victor Valentine’s Niagara Falls was dull in nature, as the water mass in the painting had receded to lower levels. That left a huge crater covering a large section of the canvas in a manner that was uninspiring to the eyes. Large rocks capped with snow could be seen in the foreground and that appearance contrasted with the massive waterfall in Church’s drawing (Borealis 4). At least it had the precipitation characteristic similar to the latter’s art. The clouds were a bit darker too and that gave an impression of impending rainfall. Furthermore, the frozen nature of the objects was well done that the images were believable. William Morris Hunt also had a Niagara Falls artwork that was poorly done. Various clashing colors were used to demonstrate the ruggedness of the terrain in an opposing viewpoint compared to that of the Niagara Falls from the American Side. Mild colors were also used to highlight the waterfall though there were no waves that indicated its mobility, as is the case in Church’s artwork either. However, it too had some vegetation although the sky was somehow clearer. Therefore, it was not as interesting as the 1857 piece by Fredrick Church.
Relation to Class Debates
The above paintings were designed at a time when the American society was looking for its cultural and national identity. Landscape art was thus seen as a great form of preserving historic sites while creating awareness of their features to stir members of the public to pick up domestic tourism. Iconic landmarks and monuments were painted and that generated a lot of interest from the citizens who flocked exhibitions to appreciate the various works of art (Howat 127). The popularity of certain paintings forced the galleries to conduct national tours across cities to give everyone a chance to marvel at them as well. The success of such artists made them to be sought after and they began to create more abstract paintings aimed at the elite in the society who considered art collection as a worthwhile investment. Due to that, the Niagara Falls painting was displayed in many exhibition centers that it became in high demand. This led to an increase in its value especially because it was by far the best depiction of the famous site. Later on, it was displayed in an art gallery where few people would be premiums to see it.
Bears, Andirodack. Art across New York. NY Conservationist, 11. Print.
Borealis, Aurora. Fredrick Edwin Church. Smithsonian American Arts Museum, 1-4. Print
Howat, John. Hudson River Celebrations. Antiques and Fine Art, 125-129. Print.
Kerr, Tom. The Niagara River: An Important Gull Area. Audubon Outlook, 6-9. Print.
Kirwin, Liza. Landscape studies at the Archives of American Art. Archives of American Art Journal, 47, 1-2.Print.
 See Kirwin for a deeper analysis and explanation of how the painting affected people .
 Kerr explains more concerning the texture of the canvas.
 Kirwin describes the appearance of the painting in more details .
 Kerr explains more about Cole’s painting and how it differed from Church’s work. Cole’s painting was full of colors.
 See Bears for more description about Trumball’s painting which was done from a different angle .
 See Borealis for a clearer understanding on how Church’s art differed from the rest
 Borealis offers more explanation contrasting Church’s and Valentine’s work.
 Howat explains the effect that the paintings had on people
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