Frederic Edwin Church’s Horseshoe Falls

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

A painting of a waterfall

Frederic Edwin Church, Horseshoe Falls, December 1856 – January 1857, oil on paper mounted to canvas, 11 1/2 x 35 5/8 in., Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, OL.1981.15.A.

About this Artwork

In this compositional study for Niagara, Church demonstrates his mastery of the depiction of rapidly flowing water. Critics had earlier admired Church’s ambition but criticized his handling of water. This prompted the artist to make a trip to Niagara Falls in 1856 to study of movement of water in preparation for painting Niagara, which in the end, proved his mastery. Church used his oil sketches to learn the natural world; this study is an exercise in virtuosity upon which the artist would rely as he embarked on his Great Pictures. Church hung this sketch at Olana, his home in Hudson, New York.