Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826–1900)
Oil on canvas
66 1/8 x 119 1/4 in. (168 x 302.9 cm)
Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909 (09.95)
Fully ten feet in breadth and rich in botanical detail, The Heart of the Andes is Church's largest and most ambitious painting as well as the most popular in his time. It represents the culmination of two expeditions to Colombia and Ecuador in 1853 and 1857, inspired by the writings of the world-renowned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt conceived the equatorial landscape of the New World as a kind of laboratory of the planet in which the range of climatic zones, from torrid to frigid, could be studied from the jungles at sea level to the perpetual snow of Andean mountains such as Chimborazo, in Ecuador, represented in Church's picture. Within its classical landscape format, the artist literally attempted to convey the variety of earthly life, most conspicuous in the lush foreground. At its three-week premier in 1859, The Heart of the Andes was housed in a huge windowlike frame and illuminated in a darkened room by concealed skylights. Twelve thousand people paid a quarter apiece to see it in New York, whence it toured Great Britain and seven other American cities until the eve of the Civil War.