Twilight in Wilderness - Frederic Edwin Churches

QUESTION: Although at first sight landscapes often appear as innocent and neutral, close inspection provides clues to the ideological perspective espoused by the artist. Browse through your textbook and identify a landscape painting that you feel is explicit about its role in offering a nationalist vision. What would you say the message of the painting is? What does the artist want to convey about America? What role, if any, do people play within the landscape?

(Church: Twilight in the Wilderness, 2011)
In Frederic Edwin Churches, “Twilight in the Wilderness” an optimist may suggest that he is expresses a feeling of anticipating with his vast open space. The 40 by 64 inch oil painted canvas, displayed in “The Cleveland Museum of Art” located in Cleveland, Ohio, creates great dimension giving the viewer a sense that the painting never ends. This visual cue touches on the idea of open opportunity offered in the United States and the potential opportunities and limitless possibilities in the west.  
  At the same time, others may argue that the contrasting dark surroundings the thin strip of the setting sun reveal a sense of great uncertainty, anxiety or even fear of difficulties ahead. With the knowledge of the context that the painting was done in 1860, most are confident that the painting was not an optimistic outlook. With the Civil War a year after the creation of the painting, most viewers of that time a less than optimistic response to Churches efforts.

Beyond the initial reaction to the great space created with vibrant color and an advanced knowledge of field of depth; or the dark contrasts pushing toward oppression; another obvious observation in this vast landscape is the lack of people. “Church has banished all evidence of human habitation” (Pohl, 2002). The viewers are giving the scene of an undisturbed wilderness, leading to the idea of uncertainty. Additional the settlers on the east coast at this time were less concerned with the preservation of the west and more concerned with expansion and the issues of slavery. In Painting an undisturbed westward facing landscape, Church brings up a social issue that was in the forefront of the minds of most of the society of the time.

Today most don’t see the painting today as the early Americans did. With the political issues left to the history books and the discussion produced by the piece  today is the speculation that Church has included an eagle in on the left side as “a symbol of American power” (Church: Twilight in the Wilderness, 2011). Others claim the painting holds religious connections to Christianity. They look at the areas “where the branches cross,” and consider it a connection to a crucifix” (Church: Twilight in the Wilderness, 2011).

Maybe these subtle details were indeed what Church was trying to focus on. It is possible that the painting was an attempt at optimism, pride and religious deliverance. Regardless of Churches intentions, the political issues were in the crosshairs of the public minds. Either the issues of that time gave the viewer’s distortion or clarity of Churches intentions.

Works  Cited:

"Church: Twilight in the Wilderness." Mark Harden's Artchive. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. .

Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: a Social History of American Art. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2002. 150-51. Print.