Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi

Meet the Artists of Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture

A painting of a mountain

Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, 1855, oil on canvas, 28 x 42 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Frank R. McCoy, 1965.12, Photo by Gene Young.

About this Artwork

Church’s first trip outside the United States was an ambitious seven-month journey through South America with his friend and patron, Cyrus Field, in 1853. The two men used Humboldt’s book Views of the Cordilleras as a guidebook, following parts of the explorer’s itinerary and staying in some of the same places. Church painted this work for Field as a memento of their trip. He included a haçienda where Humboldt had stayed in 1802, and in which they had also stayed. Church used Humboldt’s engraving of Cotopaxi from the title page of Views of the Cordilleras to compose this painting. He also consulted Humboldt’s Picturesque Atlas with its large-format color engravings from Humboldt’s travels through South America.