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Frederic Edwin Church
Aurora Borealis
1865
oil
56 1/8 x 83 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Eleanor Blodgett



An unusual natural phenomenon during the last phase of the Civil War inspired this painting. Following two Union victories, millions of Northerners witnessed the aurora borealis, or the “northern lights,” as far south as Virginia. Many believed it was a sign of the North's impending victory and some interpreted Church's dazzling Arctic aurora shielding the icebound ship as an emblem of divine salvation.