Niagara and Baalbek
Two recently rediscovered paintings by Frederic Edwin Church
Two recently rediscovered paintings by Frederic Edwin Church
In late 2014, two noteworthy, undated, plein air or near-plein air oil paintings by Frederic E. Church (18261900) came to—brighter—light, both through the art market. Both of similar, modest sizes, one of them currently highlights a major exhibition of Church’s works, Frederic Church: a Painter’s Pilgrimage, organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Each scene portrays a favorite place of
his, at a propitious period of his career: the Niagara-horseshoe Falls region of Newyork and Ontario, Canada; autumn 1856 or, more likely, autumn 1858; and ancient Roman Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, spring 1868. Privately owned, the Horseshoe Falls picture resurfaced with limited modern display résumé in the Pacific Northwest. Auctioned at Doyle’s, New York, on April 1, 2015, and purchased by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the previously privately owned Baalbek scene had had no recent visibility.
Self-sufficient small pictures carefully brushed-over pencil outlines on heavy paper, Horseshoe Falls (subsequently mounted on canvas) and View of
Baalbek epitomize what might be termed a privileged species within Church’s oeuvre. Conceptually merging eyewitness sketch and finished painting, both works are also, aptly, panoramic in format, the Baalbek prospect slightly more oblong than the Horseshoe Falls view.the earlier picture comprises one artifact, cylindrical Terrapin Tower (at left), and no humans or animals. Emphasizing artifacts ancient and then-modern, the later-date painting includes one visible human, a vineyard attendant.the images’ overall aesthetics mediate while I would say exceeding those by the best early-victorian topographical landscapists, notably, William H. Bartlett (1809-1854) and David Roberts (1796-1864).
I take it as a given that all artists’ works, including landscape painters, are self-referential. the present pictures, are that. after returning to his then current places of residence—the
Studio Building in Manhattan, mid- to late-1850s; and his then-burgeoning rural home upstate, late 1860s, named “Olana”—he self-endorsed both, by framing both. apropos how—and to whom—he might further have signified them are interesting questions. On the rectos of most but not all his open-air oils framed for his purposes, he added some sort of written data. Tellingly, his former home, Olana (henceforth without quotation marks), retains one framed, uninscribed plein air oil study of Horseshoe Falls, circa September 1858 (about which, more, momentarily), kin to the present picture of the subject; and three framed Mediterranean oil studies plein air in aspect and comparable in size and consequence to the present Baalbek scene.the earliest of the latter, an angled view of rock-cut tombs at Petra, in Jordan, March 1868, is inscribed in oils, recto, F. E. Church / 68; the latest, a prospect of the Acropolis at Athens, April 1869, is inscribed in oils, recto, Parthenon/69.the chronological middle “Eastern” work, is an uninscribed oil-and-graphite close-up view of the principal temple ruins at Baalbek. Descended through the Churches’ daughter, Isabel Charlotte (“Downie”) Church (1871-1936), the last-cited painting was returned to Olana on long-term loan during the 1990s. (Long before that, in 1869, Church developed a “cabinet”-size studio painting from it, as I will notice below.) I surmise that the artist conceived all four framed Mediterranean pictures in part for his wife, Isabel (1836-1899), who toured the region with him between late 1867 and mid 1869 but did not accompany him everywhere. Of the three depicted locales, she was by his side at Baalbek, only. At that, the Petra and Athens oils encapsulated for her as well as for himself his eyewitness perceptions of those historical places. In effect, both Baalbek views declared, short-term when he painted them, here we are; and, afterward, long-term, there we were.
The three paintings of architectural themes just mentioned at Olana are more broadly brushed than either of the present works. Hence, our best conclusion per the two sharp-focus pictures is that Church felt no need to annotate those on their rectos. that both descended through younger generation members of his family, as will be considered further below, says much the same. those were likely his most thorough transcripts of the respective sites. I suspect that for that reason, among others, he consulted as well as fondly remembered each for years afterward.
For the balance of this essay I will consider the two paintings cited in my title in terms of Church’s artistic investments in them, and their provenances, each of which—the Niagara scene especially—provides revealing entrée into his private life and family. My discussion of Baalbek has been facilitated by three visits
I made to Lebanon during 2016 and 2017, and by numerous helpful residents of the modern-day town of Baalbek and of Beirut.
Nowadays Church is usually believed to have sojourned thrice at Niagara during 1856: first in
late winter (March), resulting in several extant snow scene sketches, pencil and painted, of both falls (all at the Cooper-hewitt National Design Museum, New York); next, anticipated but which probably did not take place, July; and last, verifiably, September into October, focusing on the Canadian
Falls from the Canadian side. He did make a documented, repeat visit there two years later, late summer-early autumn 1858. Altogether, his 1856 trips there were preparations for one his best-known studio paintings, Niagara, 1857 (formerly, Corcoran Gallery of Art, washington, D.C.; now National Gallery of Art, washington, D.C.), an eight-foot recomposed scene of the Canadian Falls viewed from above the cascade. Because no ice enters the present work or the related drawings by him (all, also, at the Cooper-hewitt Museum), as well as because of its Canadian Falls subject, Horseshoe Falls may—emphasis on the word “may”— date from September-october 1856. For now, notice the similar treatments of the cascades and Tarrapin Tower portions of an unfinished, un-annotated waterside oil study by Church of Horseshoe Falls from a proximate vantage point. a detailed drawing by him of Horseshoe Falls and Tarrapin Tower from a related atop-the-ridge perspective, is inscribed with a bit of verve: Oct 6th / - 1856. In the present waterside scene, Church minimized repoussoir rocks and trees.
But did Church paint Horseshoe Falls during 1858 rather than 1856? Through that image, he visually walked on water across the Niagara River to the base of the Falls. In October 1858, he actually did so, hiring The Maid of the Mist (with at least one unnamed friend of his aboard) and having the captain hold the vessel, quivering, beneath the roaring water masses for 40 to 45 minutes, while he, Church, sketched. His beneath-the-falls flotation of 1858 was valiant if not really risky. Catching the voluminous aqueous motion closeup, his fullest extant oil sketch made aboard the boat, resembles a detail of the present, shoreline, picture.the Maid of the Mist sketch’s foreshortening is stronger, the tumbling masses enlarged, and artist’s haste of handling more obvious, but the vantage points are allied. Further, certain features of the present picture, especially the mist-cloaked boulders below Tarrapin Tower, and the water flow of the falls, cohere better with the Olana oil, 1858, than with the unfinished Cooper-hewitt waterside oil, of, presumably, 1856. On balance, I’d date Horseshoe Falls to 1858 rather than 1856.
Church and his fellow Niagara visitors of 1856, and fellow Niagara visitors and Maid of the Mist passenger of 1858, were soon parted.at Baalbek a decade later, by contrast, he closely, lingeringly associated that locale with his wife Isabel. while hampered by illness, she cherished the week-long experience much as her husband did. At once mesmerizing and meditative, febrile, parched, and freezing, the present Baalbek scene arrays heroic, crumbled human history wreathed by
greenery beneath distant, sinuous snowcrested mountains. Its Orientalist aspect is most evident in those slopes, neither European nor Western North American in their profiles. By the 1860s Baalbek was globally, and, for Mr. Church, U.s. locally famed. a traveling correspondent for a Hartford, Connecticut—church’s birthplace—newspaper of mid-1867, about a year before the Churches arrived there, was enthralled by Baalbek, terming it a “wonder and a marvel” in sunlight and moonlight alike, and the so-called Temple of the Sun “the greatest ruin in the world.”
View of Baalbek passed through one set of the artist’s in-laws: his youngest son, Louis Palmer Church (1870-1943), and Louis’s wife, Sally (1868-1964).
Sally Good (whom Louis affectionately called “Sallie”) and Louis were close years before marrying a few months after his father died. afterward they lived at Olana, which Louis inherited from his father.the correct inference is that Louis’s parents had had doubts about her. He, though, was struck and stuck by her. For her part, “sallie” Church served her deceased in-laws extraordinarily, in two respects especially. First, despite their prior reluctance, she valued them, and Olana, which she and Louis maintained much as it had been during the latter years of his parents’ lives. Second, she survived until 1964, age 96.That was long enough to afford, through developing preservationist sensibilities, circumstances favorable for saving Olana. Just a few years earlier, those urges were less prevalent, hence what turned out to be ensuring diligence by an aggregate of mid-1960s public-spirited persons led by the late Dr. David C. Huntington, might not have succeeded.
Horseshoe Falls’s recent passed-down provenance cited F. E. Church and a son of the artist, “theodore Church,” i.e., Theodore Winthrop Church (18691914), believed by its recent owners to have given the picture to a “West Coast” man, indicated as “Charles H. Kirtinger,” at the latter’s wedding circa 1888. My research however specifies the artist’s eldest son, Frederic Joseph Church (1866-1914), while still youthful, as the involved Church family member. He, rather than the artist’s middle son T.W. Church, settled in the Pacific Northwest during the fall of 1887.At that, the recipient was Wilmington, Delaware-born Charles H. Kittinger (1863-1901), or, properly, his fiancée—whom we’ll reference momentarily—during the year 1889 not 1888. C. H. Kittinger was by then a prominent Seattle, washington, resident, one whose brothers also lived nearby. Charles Kittinger did marry, at Seattle, on June 18, 1889. Judging by evidence outlined below, an 1889 nuptial offering of any kind from young Mr. F. J. Church to the slightly older Mr. C. H. Kittinger would seem implausible. Yet a pre-bridal Church-kittinger gift involving the picture and Kittinger’s fiancée at the time, did occur, though in awkward circumstances; more on that and those, also presently.
As I will detail in my forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frederic Edwin Church’s oil paintings, his son Frederic Joseph Church is, on his own, worth study and rehabilitation. Handsome, charismatic, athletic, artistically capable, and a persistent photographer and oft-published writer, F. J. Church was, also, personally flawed and recurrently exasperating to people around him as well as to himself. In 1894 a Church family friend cognizant of but sympathetic to F. J. Church’s defects, called him a “Black sheep.” a phrase of old origins still in use, fits him fairly well, as well: star-crossed. A fall-down bounce-back chap for most of his relatively short life, he eventually became, after his father, in toto both favorably and adversely, the most publicly prominent member of the historical Church family. Most intriguingly, during 1897 in the
Yukon under now-thinly-documented circumstances, F. J. Church befriended Jack London (1876-1916), the famed American author. a decade later,
1907-08, London wrote and from Newyork published an illustrated adventure story heroicizing his former Klondike comrade.
Twenty years earlier, meanwhile, Frederic Joseph Church fitfully headed West, trying to make something of himself as, unavoidably, a “son of Church, the famous artist.” Documents retained at Olana establish that Charles H. Kittinger and Frederic J. Church became, from late 1887 for a year or so, companionable associates at Seattle, the latter an employee of the former. At that juncture Charles H. Kittinger co-owned a business called the Seattle Wharf Company. Concurrently F. J. Church was also linked to at least one further Seattle firm, the Canadian Pacific Navigation Co., a shipper; Charles Kittinger, too, had additional local interests. However, by early 1889 a quarrel occurred between the two men, precipitated by F. J. Church’s being caught with his hands in the company till, and, subsequently, losing the purloined funds to bad investments. And not for the last time, either, regrettably. another Seattle scenario involving F. J. Church’s stealing a large sum from a company where he was subsequently employed, and again being discovered having done so, again without rectifying his shortages, became sensationalist national newspaper fodder spread from Seattle, six years later, early September 1895.That public, déjà-vu sequence of events much discomfited his parents back East, and, doubtless, all their friends.
Charles H. Kittinger’s marriage, of June 18, 1889, to a somewhat younger, vivacious women originally from Montreal, née Amy Whitney, is a tale in itself. By the late 1880s she and one or more of her kin were living in Seattle. There, she reportedly was smitten by Kittinger’s dashing demeanor.
The marriage did not endure. years afterward, Amy Whitney Kittinger, having separated from her husband, caused the romance-induced suicide of aviennese nobleman atvienna.at that time (December 1897), following a minor acting career in New York, her literally fatal attractiveness prompted internationally and nationally re-run newsprint reports headlined “Lures
Men to Death” and phrases to that effect. (Oh, the news cycles you’d preferably avoid.) C. H. Kittinger himself died at Niagara Falls (of all places) in 1901 age 38, of what was said to be heart disease—i assume not an emotionally broken heart.
Returning to the Kittinger-whitney nuptials at Seattle, according to available documentation, those were initially expected either during May 1889, or, specifically, June 14. However, on June 6, 1889, a huge fire ravaged Seattle.
The conflagration disrupted everything regionally, including the Kittinger whitney ceremonies. years later
C. H. Kittinger was said to have behaved valiantly during the blaze, and to have been injured physically by it. In any case the wedding belatedly did take place at Seattle on June 18, the couple having obtained their marriage license the previous day, June 17.The earlymorning festivities of June 18 were chronicled by two short, cheery writeups six days apart in the Seattle Postintelligencer, a daily newspaper. According to both reports, the couple had “quietly” wed at Ms. whitney’s grandmother’s residence locally, a few guests, only, attending.the second Post-intelligencer story, of June 24, included a limited “among those present” list. F. J. Church was not named there.
He was far away at that time. Family correspondence May through July 1889 preserved at Olana, puts him, submissive and insolvent, back East—new Hampshire, Connecticut, and upstate Newyork—trying to make amends and strategize his Pacific Northwest debts.the Seattle fire, happening while he was away, cost him further, long distance. a lengthy letter preserved at Olana, from Charles H. Kittinger to F. J. Church’s father, F. E. Church, penned at Seattle, October 16, 1889, is pertinent. It believably outlines Charles H. Kittinger’s and Frederic J. Church’s prior close, cordial relationship, and accrued problems, primarily monetary. In the letter C. H. Kittinger told F. E. Church that his son, F. J. Church, owed him, C. H. Kittinger, about $7,000, a huge sum. Kittinger didn’t there refer to the city fire, his own wedding midyear, or recent efforts by F. J. Church to mend with his former boss. (In extant documents, F. J. Church mentioned small amounts of money sent to Seattle, and the sale of a wagon he owned, undamaged by the fire, in Seattle.)
But Kittinger added, correctly, that F. J. Church had gone “east” “about May just past” (i.e. 1889), and had since returned, without, however, Kittinger’s and F. J. Church’s reacquainting. Nor did Kittinger wish that they meet, although F. J. Church sought a reunion. Still hoping that the elder Church might assist him financially, Kittinger said in the same letter that he still liked F. J. Church; that he wished F. J. Church to avoid “penitentiary;” that
F. J. Church would probably succeed vocationally once he resolved his own predicaments; but also that he, Kittinger, could not abide re-connecting himself with F. J. Church.
While purposely amiable toward F. E. Church, the language used by Charles H. Kittinger on October 16, 1889, makes the younger men’s prior Seattle relationship sound like that between a surrogate older brother, himself, and an erstwhile younger brother, Frederic J. Church. During 1887 to 1888, C. H. Kittinger was then in his mid-20s,
F. J. Church, his early 20s. their threeyear age difference, would have made a difference. Growing up at Olana—his prior siblings, a brother and a sister, having, tragically, died of disease during March 1865—F. J. Church had been the de facto leader of the family’s younger generation.
As mentioned, mid-1889, F. J.
Church was, perforce, bicoastal. Circa 1890, his brothers and sister were moving around, too. Louis Church toured Europe mid-1889—at a young age, leaving his parents and siblings behind.the following year, 1890, their sister, Isabel Charlotte Church, traveled with her parents to and from Mexico. Later that decade, Louis also accompanied F. E. Church to and in Mexico three times, mountain climbing while his lame father remained hotel or hacienda-bound. I know little about
Theodore Winthrop Church’s early travels, besides those back and forth to Princeton University, where he was a student, class of 1891 (F. J. Church had already matriculated there, without graduating). Interestingly, an extant, dissembling note, at Olana, by Frederic Joseph Church addressed to his “sincere fr iend” “Charly”—kittinger—in
Seattle, and written June 20, 1889, from Kinderhook, New York, mentioned the possibility of his bringing “my eldest brother”—that would be Theodore— ”with me” to Seattle. I cannot believe F. E. Church would have permitted that option. Evidently he didn’t. a regional news report of mid-july 1889 lists Frederic Edwin Church and Theodore W. Church as guests at Catskill Mountain House. Given the thorny internecine circumstances of that spring and summer, I can imagine the father telling his son Theodore, returned home that summer from Princeton, something like: “let’s get out of the house, you and me, find some fresh air, and discuss—your wayward older brother, F. J., and how you might learn from and avoid his misbehaviors.” Which brings me to the defining document of Horseshoe Falls’s provenance. From Seattle on April 4, 1892, Charles H. Kittinger re-contacted F. E. Church by letter; that missive, is at Olana. By then, Kittinger, bankrupt from cascaded losses caused by the Seattle fire, and verging his wife’s returning with their infant child “to her family until I can recover myself,” asked the artist’s sustenance:
“. . .When Fred [F. J. Church] was leaving Seattle, he gave Mrs. Kittinger for her wedding present, two pictures, a ‘Salvator Rosa’ and a smal [sic] ‘Niagara’, said to be painted by you. while I allowed her to accept them, still I told Fred I would realize on them as soon as possible, and apply proceeds to his indebtedness. I was then worth $50,000. Today I have nothing and write to you to obtain value of pictures and evidences of genuineness. will you please give this matter your careful consideration being assured by me of the fact that I saved Fred from public disgrace.”
The father’s reply is untraced; the “Salvator Rosa” is unidentified.
One of two lengthy reports from
Seattle newspapers of summer 1895 concerning F. J. Church’s repeat financial scrapes of that period, referred to “certain valuable pictures from his father’s brush,” none particularized, “which had been given him [and which] went for debts.” that statement corroborates C. H. Kittinger’s of
April 1892, to the effect that Frederic Joseph Church carried with him a few pictorial works of his father’s authorship/ownership as he, F. J. Church, prowled the Midwest and
West during the late 1880s into the 1890s. (How he obtained them, remains unclear.) His youngest brother, Louis, whom Frederic Edwin came to regard as the most reliable of his sons, and who wrapped up his deceased brothers’ affairs after both died prematurely during 1914, knew these matters through the mid- and late 19-teens better than he would have preferred. During 1916 and 1917 Louis Palmer Church tried to settle post-mortem legal and inheritance questions concerning Frederic Joseph Church.at that the same period L. P. Church gave the Cooper Institute, predecessor of the Cooper-hewitt Museum, the massive archive of his father’s sketches that has come down to us.
By themselves, Frederic Joseph Church’s further peregrinations, mishaps, and bona fide accomplishments in the Northwest of the late 1880s and 90s, comprise a compelling saga—besides his early
20th century experiences in Hawaii, where he moved in December 1898. In 1897 he briefly ventured to they ukon, partnering with Jack London, as before noted. During the late 1890s, from the East Coast where he had resettled, Charles H. Kittinger financially speculated in they ukon, as well. those mutual, riches-seeking tropes—and, by then, variously rueful memories of prior wives—might have but probably did not stir re-acquaintance between F. J. Church and C. H. Kittinger. Returning to View of Baalbek, Frederic E. Church and Isabel Church memorably visited that locale during May 1868. Subsequently he did not paint topographical studio pictures of those ruins, but he repeatedly artistically reiterated aspects of them, particularly in both of his largest ruins capricci of the 1870s, Syria by the Sea (1873), and The Aegean Sea (circa 1878), and especially in his second mid-size studio capriccio (1869), painted in Rome. In the last-cited work, Church’s first “Eastern” canvas shown in the U.S.— at the Goupil-knoedler Gallery, in Manhattan, November 1869 to circa January 1870—the left foreground elements seem Baalbekian, and, indeed, are.the three-foot painting’s calculated Baalbekian character is evidenced principally in two respects. First and foremost is Church’s framed on-site Baalbek oil study, May 1868, aforementioned, looking east-northeast from the northwest corner of the upper site platform. Months later for the studio painting, using the same perspective alignment, Church distilled the Jupiter temple’s six big columns depicted in his oil study to its nearest three, while dramatizing factual late afternoon lighting as he shuffled select details. For example, the tiny triangular shadow cast atop the studio picture’s farthest—third— column by its Corinthian capital, he repeated from the shadow depicted atop the farthest—sixth—column in the oil study. Secondly, prior to its public debut, the 1869 canvas alighted at Church’s Manhattan studio in the Studio Building, then co-habited by his colleague Martin Johnson Heade. there, Heade probably interpreting, a suburban Newyork journalist voiced it:
“The only picture by Mr. Church we saw—and which will be placed on exhibition at Goupil’s Gallery during the ensuing week—is an effective composition of Anti-lebanon scenery, made up from materials gathered in the Lebanon valley, in Syria.the ruins depicted are a portion of the great ruins of Baalbec, but are not taken from an actual view.the last rays of the setting sun are gilding the tops of three columns—a fragment of the great Temple of the Sun which once stood in this historical valley. Over the low
mountains range, near the right side of the picture, is seen the silvery glow which precedes the rising of the moon. In the left foreground rests a shattered map of entablature, and across an arched bridge, in the falling twilight, comes a single camel, bearing its solitary rider.” Looking approximately westnorthwest from a slightly elevated position several hundred yards east southeast of the city’s old acropolis, the Detroit Baalbek transcript surveys nearby dry acreage partitioned with snaky low walls, and, farther, segments of inhabited Baalbek—comprising, in Church’s day, about one hundred houses.the chief mid-distance edificial fragments are, at middle left, six tall Corinthian columns and connecting entablatures of the “Great Temple”
(as it was then known; now called a Temple of Jupiter), and, farther right and nearer on a lower platform, a robust, former peripteral Corinthian structure variously designated in the 19th century a “Temple of Jupiter,” “temple of the Sun,” or, simply, “Temple of Baal.” Loosened by earthquake in the remote past, a cylinder of one of the latter’s detached columns leans against its southern wall, as it does today. (Presently identified as a temple of Bacchus, several of its fallen encircling uprights have been re-erected in recent years). The architectural remnants are wreathed with greenery and backdropped by snow-crested Lebanese mountains extending toward the left (northwest). Traveling through the Holy Land with their mother-in-law and small son during early 1868, the married Churches—“mama” and “the baby,” i.e., Frederic Joseph Church (as Mrs. Church referred to them in an extant diary she carried with her) remaining at Beirut—proceeded toward distant destinations via Jerusalem to Damascus. thence, late April 1868, accompanied by a few Euro-american men including a photographer from the Bergheim family, and escorted by an Arab guide and “armed guard,” they headed by mule and camel caravan for the earthquake-prone “giant cities of Bashan”—isabel’s Church’s re-quoted phrase, borrowed from the title of an oft-reprinted British book (1865, et cetera) by Reverend Josias Leslie Porter (1823-1889); the Churches owned an 1867 Newyork edition. There, Porter introduced “Bashan,” a Biblical name associated with the region, by terming it “the land of sacred romance.”
The Churches had planned to visit the spacious Roman ruins at desert Palmyra in present-day Syria, before proceeding to ancient Baalbek in the fertile Bekaa valley of Lebanon. Old Palmyra had staged events romanticized during the 19th century, especially involving its legendary Queen, Zenobia (third century A.D.). Mr. Church was interested in Zenobia; Reverend Porter was more impressed with Palmyra than Baalbek.
But Baalbek, designated “Heliopolis”—“city of the Sun”— by Alexander the Great and in some 19th-century literature, was neither substitute nor consolation. It was instead itself a major goal of Church’s Near Eastern tour, comparable to the “stony mountains of Arabia Petrea” and “valley of Petra” in present-day Jordan. Unaccompanied by family members, Church boldly had journeyed by boat and by donkey and camel convoy to and from Petra via Jerusalem, Gaza, Beirut, and Jaffa during February and
March 1868. His next expeditionary excursion after that, was to Baalbek.an English guidebook (1868) by Reverend Porter to the Near East that the Churches carried with them, referred to Baalbek’s “world-wide celebrity” and “magnificence,” which have “excited the wonder and admiration of every traveller who has been privileged to visit it;” the intricacies of the buildings’ “sculptured friezes and doorways;” and their colossal “substructures.” Other Euro-american writers of the nineteenth century and earlier ruminated on Baalbek’s “enormous magnitude and unparalleled richness;” its latter-day decay; and its elegiac historical elusiveness, akin, in some respects, to that of Stonehenge in England.
In her tour diary, May 1868, Isabel Church devoted several paragraphs to Baalbek. Staying in an upper room of a nearby dilapidated castle as sightseer groups came and went, she rode a camel for the first time (also sketched by her husband; the sketch itself is unidentified), approvingly surveyed the city ruins and “the noble Lebanon [mountains],” occasionally feared for her and his safeties, and became ill.
But less sick than the photographer accompanying them, who as a result departed early.at that she considered herself stalwart, as did her spouse, who roamed freely and sketched assiduously 24/7 or almost—including by moonlight—throughout the site, especially during their initial two days there, May 6 and 7. Approaching the site, Church repeatedly sketched the distinctive snow-striped slopes of what he termed “Mount Lebanon,” actually the inland gradient of Mount Sannine, in winter an imposing snow summit looming north of Beirut, from where Church also sketched it
A letter written by Church from Berchtesgaden, Germany, to an unnamed Philadelphian, perhaps the collector James Claghorn (1817-1884), in mid-1868, and published by a Philadelphia newspaper February 1869 and numerously U.s.-press reprinted thereafter, contains the artist’s fullest extant commentary about Baalbek. There, Church wrote, in part: “i took my wife to Bashan. She is the first lady who has been there, and we saw the wonderful remains of the giant cities, and got back alive and unhurt. I lingered around Baalbeck [sic] for eight days, and regretted that it was not eight weeks. astounding are those ruins, and beautifully situated. Lebanon, snow-streaked in front—a beautiful plain striped with grain-fields. the city rises from a mass of verdure and running water . . .”The other framed on-site Baalbek picture by Church, abovementioned, underscores that interpretation.the chosen coin de vue an alluring late afternoon photographers’ gathering place nowadays, Church’s snapshot-like depiction recollects prior published illustrations of the same ruins, including one accompanying early editions of Thomson’s The Land and the Book. there, local male figures
roam beneath the Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus. In Church’s transcript, a lone woman wearing dark red garb and a headscarf stands before the Temple of Jupiter on the upper platform, facing the artist. Since that picture returned to Olana, myself, the former site manager, the late James A. Ryan, and curators there have assumed that the depicted woman is Isabel Church.
Besides his above-quoted letter, Frederic Church’s extant framed and unframed sketches approaching and at Baalbek (all but two at the Cooperhewitt Museum), and his collected photographs of the site (all at Olana), testify to his perceptions.at Baalbek, we should be aware, much has changed since his day. In 1868, as had prior travelers, he could still study chiseled fragments where they’d fallen over the millennia, including within the Bacchus Temple, site of his finest plein air ruin transcript, close by to where photographers had already recorded the same mélange and would again during the 1870s and 1880s. Starting toward the end of the 19th century, however, tour operators opened new town hotels, and (led by Kaiser Wilhelm II’S visit to the site in 1898) generations of archaeologists regularized Baalbek’s platforms and (a century later, in
1998) installed a commodious on-site museum. Its floor cleared of debris, the Bacchus Temple nowadays hosts summertime concerts.
With Church’s Detroit Baalbek panorama, a thorough transcript, the chosen vantage point, mid-morning sunlight, clear atmosphere, and details near and far, bespeak a frame of mind at once inquisitive, analytical, romantic, and aesthetically affirmative. Since the late
17th century, drawings, prints, and, latterly, photographs in panoramic formats were endemic to Euro-american perceptions of both ruined Palmyra and ruined Baalbek. Compared to Palmyra, Baalbek, while orchestrally compact (so to speak), was, and is today, instrumentally bigger and bolder. Overview desert Palmyrean breadth is diffuse and desiccated; overview mountain valley Baalbekian breadth is, for the most part, lucid, and, in springtime, as Church reported, botanically fertile; a rivulet rushes through the area. By what amounted to longstanding illustrator-travelers’ consensus—notably, Henry Maundrell (1697/1703; further editions to the mid19th century), Robert Wood (1757; 1827), David Roberts (1843-1849; 1855); the photographer Francis Bedford (1862); and the geographer Sir Charles Wilson and his accompanying artists (1881/circa 1882)—Baalbek was best comprehended from the south, two of the site’s three major temples defining the scene.
(The third noteworthy ruin, a smaller polygonal temple—lately restored— believed to have been dedicated tovenus, in which Church was also interested, stands a short distance southeast of the main precinct.) The “snow-streaked” Lebanese mountains are shown in several forerunners’ views.
Hence he was agreeing with precedent while investigating, and, it turned out, self-concurring. In sitù he delineated at least three Baalbek panoramas from viewpoints near one another: the present oil, undated, a morning view; and two large graphite and gouache drawings at the Cooper-hewitt Museum.the drawings, afternoon and morning scenes, respectively, are inscribed six days apart: the waning sunlit hours of his arrival day there, May 6, 1868; and mid-morning of nearly his last, May 12, 1868.The latter, a two-sheet expanse seen from slightly farther east and pivoted more northward than Church’s other two transcripts, emphasizes the splayed, rubble-strewn “Roman Quarry” a mile southwest of the principal temples site. Notwithstanding Church’s on-sheet verbal corrective of his drawing’s misalignment of foreground excavation and distant site, no existing historical photograph, published, or hand-drawn delineation matches his for accuracy or effect. His distinctly includes, toward lower left, an unfinished, abandoned building block of renowned amplitude. Known to travelers as “the great stone” and locally as the “monolith,” “stone of Midi,” and “Hajr al Hu˘ bla” (“stone of the pregnant woman”), the colossal slab by itself denoted ruined Baalbek, and still does so. today, having benefited from a doting caretaker and recent upgrades in visitor accessibility, the actual stone retains breathing space, while much of the quarry’s original acreage has been partitioned by roads, fences and railings, small buildings, and a Christian cemetery. In recent times two even larger unfinished building stones have been unearthed at the quarry. Rerewinding to Church’s day, william M. Thomson, mesmerized by Baalbek’s grandeur, pictured “the great stone” in The Land and the Book. A generation later, following Thomson, Charles Wilson (ca. 1881) re-accorded “Hajr al Hu˘ bla” a vignette illustration—the temple remnants rising beyond— and, pages earlier, an effusive verbal commentary, terming it “the wonder of architects, scholars, and practical men from all parts of the world.” Elizabeth Rundle Charles, aforementioned (1862), was entranced:
. . .Why was it, we asked ourselves, that this fragment of unfinished work impressed us more, and seemed to bring the past nearer than all the marvellous finished structures we had been surveying in the morning? Was it not because in such interrupted work you seem to read the past, not in the perfect, but in the present tense; in the active, not in the passive voice; not in its stately monumental repose, but in its everyday toil? . . .That one stone in the quarry of Baalbec seemed to bring us more in the presence of the living men of its past generations, and stir our minds with more speculation as to their history, than all its magnificent temples.
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Horseshoe Falls, 1856 or 1858. Oil and graphite on paper laid down on canvas, 9½ x 17½ in. Private collection.
Frederic Joseph Church (1866-1914), ca. 1885. Albumen print, 2½ x 4 in. New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site, Taconic Region.
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), View of Baalbek, 1868. Oil and graphite on heavy card, 9½ x 20 in. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo courtesy of Doyle, New York.
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Study for ‘Under ‘Niagara’, 1858. Oil and graphite on paper mounted on canvas, 11¾ x 17½ in. New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site, Taconic Region, OL.1981.51A...
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), The Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, and Corinthian Tomb, Petra, 1868. Oil and graphite on paper mounted on canvas, 13 x 201⁄8 in. New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site,...
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Ruins of Baalbek, May 1868. Oil and graphite on paper, mounted on canvas, 13 x 20 in. Olana State Historic Site, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Estate of Preston Haskell.
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Niagara, 1857. Oil on canvas, 42½ x 90½ in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C..
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), The Parthenon and the Acropolis, Athens, 1869. Oil and graphite on paper mounted on canvas, 11½ x 20¼ in. New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site, Taconic Region,...
Frederic E. Church (1826-1900), Horseshoe Falls, Niagara, from the Canadian Side, ca. 1856. Oil and graphite on paperboard, 119⁄16 x 17½ in. Cooper-hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, New York, Gift of Louis P. Church, 1917,...