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Church was the
Paradigm of the artist who becomes the public voice of a culture,
summerising its beliefs, embodying its ideas and confirming its assumptions.

Nature and Culture, Barbara Novak

 














Summary

In Rocky Forest Pool 1857, the American Elm 'the noblest arch beneath the sky' with its 'sacred roof of green' (Henry Ward Beecher) is emerging and has now discretely taken over the left foreground of the painting.

The vision of Paradise Regained takes shape for the first time without the presence of Man. The Way ahead is 'a new babtism', a reaffirmation of Faith.

'The Lesson' therefore is to follow the Way of Christ and The Light on the Water. The river leads towards three trees in the luminous evanescent distance representing the Trinity and the very presence of the Omnipresent God of Creation within His perfect and sublime wilderness (which is God's Gift -Theodoros- inscribed in Greek on the stretcher). The Creation and Art of God.

Rocky Forest Pool 1857 predates The Evening Star 1858 and like this small sketch, is important because for the very first time in his paintings of the 50's it portrays a pure untouched wilderness without a trace of Man, his works or his animals. It represents the first step with Niagara 1857 (after Sunset 1856 - with its sheep & Twilight 1856-58 - with its trapper's hut) where all references to man are excluded. The Evening Star 1858 follows a year later with Twilight in the Wilderness in 1860. Twilight in the Wilderness 1860 however, has a different message of foreboding to do with the fears, political uncertainties and turmoil of the impending Civil War.

With Rocky Forest Pool 1857 Church has no need as yet to hint at the struggle ahead and it may thus be seen as an inspired, more lyrical and technically more proficient answer to Durand's much acclaimed In the Woods 1855. He would have been aware also of Durand's 'Letters on Landscape Painting' published in The Crayon that year which invoked 'go not abroad then, in search of the exercise of your pencil, while the virgin charms of our native land have claims upon your deepest affections.' Church certainly endorsed this recommendation when in the summer of 1856 he went on a trip into New England and Maine with Theodore Winthrop who recalled 'we both need to be at the heart of New England's wildest wilderness.' It was 'a new life' - 'there, perhaps up in the strong wilderness, we might be recreated to a more sensitive vitality.' It showed them new ways of seeing and feeling through another 'Baptism.'

For the first time in his Art, Church was confirming his complete Faith in the spiritually regenerative and benevolent influences of pristine nature. Interestingly, a page from Milton's Paradise Regained and a print of Christ's Baptism is glued to the old stretcher with the inscription (meaning God's Gift) or Theodore in English.

Rocky Forest Pool 1857 is part of the creative and spiritual bounty from that trip. Paying particular attention to the luminous evanescent atmosphere and Light on the Water, here is a perfect Humboldtian painting of a sublime North American 'sylvan Scene', painted with Ruskinian precision and with all the technical genius that Church had by then learnt from Turner and through his own diligent enquiry and practice.

Rocky Forest Pool 1857 technically pre-empts and prepares us for his epic paintings.

In Heart of the Andes 1859, Church employs similar techniques to convey his 'grand pictorial poem' through mountains and woodlands, plants and river.

For Icebergs 1861 he conjures the three basic elements of the Arctic - ice, water and sky in order to express a desolate frozen landscape.

In Twilight in the Wilderness 1860 and Rocky Forest Pool 1857 Church uses, water, trees and particularly the setting sky in Twilight and on the luminous evanescent light in Rocky Forest Pool 1857 - to define the elemental character of the North American Landscape and to impart his 'Lessons' through his Art.