Artwork Detail

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
American, 1826–1900
Oil on canvas
40 1/16 x 60 1/8 "
Bequest of Charles Parsons, 1905
WU 2174
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of many South American landscapes produced by Frederic Edwin Church. Executed late in his career, this painting is based on his recollection of his first encounter with the tropics, in 1853. Prior to this voyage, Church, along with his Hudson River School colleagues, had painted landscapes extolling the abundant natural resources and lush scenery of New England. Church's first trip to South America coincided with the start of national conflicts that disrupted the notion of the American landscape as an innocent, Edenic paradise. Church began depicting South America as the "New Eden," painting images of a verdant tropical paradise as the United States was taking political and economic interests in the continent. Thirty years later, when he created Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the popularity of landscape painting was waning and the American landscape was being further transformed by industrial and technological progress. This painting nostalgically preserves both the vision of South America as an untainted paradise and landscape painting itself as a viable medium of moral and artistic expression. In this, as in all of his landscapes, Church followed the Romantic tradition of conveying the sublime - an intensely emotional experience with nature that is morally and spiritually uplifting.