“Maine Sublime: Frederic Edwin Church’s Landscapes” at Portland Museum

Frederic Edwin Church, “Campfire near Mount Katahdin”

The Portland Museum of Art is exhibiting a major summer show “Maine Sublime: Frederic Edwin Church’s Landscapes of Mount Desert and Mount Katahdin.” This exhibition explores the half-century during which the famed American landscape painter traveled to and was inspired by the landscapes of Maine. The show, on view through September 30, is drawn from the permanent collection at Olana, the home that Church built for himself in upstate New York. The exhibition includes 25 of Church’s small oil and pencil sketches, highlighting Maine’s two most majestic natural landmarks and many will be on public view for the first time.

Nineteenth-century landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church first traveled to Maine in 1850 inspired by the portfolio of drawings his teacher Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, and by Andreas Achenbach’s dramatic sea painting “Clearing Up–Coast of Sicily” exhibited in 1849 in New York City. The artist spent six weeks on Mount Desert exploring the coast, its rocky islands, and peaceful harbors. He sketched the scenery which he described as “magnificent both land and seaward.” In 1852 he trekked inland focusing on the area of Mount Katahdin. During the next decades, Church continued to visit Maine capturing sensational sunsets, robust crashing waves, impressive peaks, and an abundance of wilderness.

Throughout his life, Church continued to visit Maine, sketching, fishing, and hiking. The Katahdin region so intrigued Church that in 1878 he bought land on the lake, the only other property he ever owned besides Olana. The Maine material in the Olana collection ranges from finished oil sketches that Church selected to mount, frame, and display at Olana to pencil sketches and cartoons that he stored in personal portfolios.

The exhibition is organized by the Olana Partnership, Hudson, NY, and New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany, NY, and curated by John Wilmerding, Sarofim Professor Emeritus of American Art and Chair of the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton University. Wilmerding is currently chairman of the board of the National Gallery and a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

“Maine Sublime” is accompanied by a catalogue co-published by Cornell University Press and The Olana Partnership under the “Olana Collection” imprint and will illustrate additional paintings from museum’s and private collections. The exhibition catalogue will be available in the Museum Store this summer.

Also on exhibit, “The Draw of the Normandy Coast, 1860–1960” continues to show at the Portland Museum through September 3. For more information, visit portlandmuseum.org.