The Icebergs, 1861
Oil on canvas; 64 ½ x 112 in. (162.56 x 284.48 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art
Frederic Edwin Church, one of America’s most celebrated landscape painters, traveled from New York City to Labrador to paint icebergs in 1859. During his self-financed, six-week journey, the artist completed more than 100 pencil-and-oil sketches that reveal the evanescent effects of light on icebergs adrift from Greenland glaciers.
Church infused geology with divinity. The majesty of The Icebergs reflects the spiritual experience of nature described by transcendental philosophers Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).
Exhibited in New York City and London, the painting was accompanied by an artist’s statement that reads
as a natural treatise on the characteristics of icebergs. Church admired the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, the renowned 19th-century naturalist who called on artists to paint panoramas. Although Church responded and painted with naturalistic finesse, the purely imaginary composition was created from a combination of several views, none based on surviving sketches.