How Church Painted the Icebergs

Janice K. Johnson

In 1859,  American artist Frederic Church (1826-1900) commissioned a schooner to take him on a plein-air painting expedition to “Iceberg Alley,” a dangerous region surrounding Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Church produced an impressive set of oil studies from observation to provide the raw material for his big studio painting of The Icebergs (later called “The North”), above. 

The big painting is now in the Dallas Museum of Art, but was lost for many years.

It’s a small show, with Church’s art occupying just one upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately the show doesn’t include any of the paintings in this post, instead relying on notes and documentary information. But if you haven’t toured the house of Olana, it’s worth checking out.

Louis Noble, who accompanied Church on the expedition, noted that the artist had a bad case of sea sickness during most of the voyage, but he painted anyway, using a paintbox open on his lap. 

Noble said: “While I have been talking, the painter, who sits midship, with his thin, broad box upon his knees, making his easel of the open lid, has been dashing in the colors.”

Noble continues: “Again, the painter wipes his brushes, puts away his second picture, and tacks a fresh pasteboard within the cover of his box, and gives word to pull for the south-western side.”

Book: The Voyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church’s Arctic Masterpiece by Eleanor Jones Harvey

Thanks, Ida Brier and Glenda Berman

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