Church was the product of the second generation of the Hudson River School and the only pupil of Thomas Cole, the school’s founder. The Hudson River School was established by the British Thomas Cole when he moved to America and started painting landscapes, mostly of mountains and other traditional American scenes.
Cole, along with his friend Asher Durand, started this school in New York; it was the first well-acknowledged American artistic movement. The paintings were characterized by their focus on traditional American pastoral settings, especially the Catskill Mountains, and their romantic qualities. This style attempted to capture the wild realism of an unsettled America that was quickly disappearing, and the feelings of discovery and appreciation for natural beauty. His American frontier landscapes show the “ expansionist and optimistic outlook of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.” Church did differ from Cole in the topics of his paintings: he preferred natural and often majestic scenes over Cole’s propensity towards allegory.
Church, like most second generation Hudson River School painters, used extraordinary detail, romanticism, and luminism in his paintings. Romanticism was prominent in Britain and France in the early 1800s as a counter-movement to the Enlightenment virtues of order and logic. Artists of the Romantic period often depicted nature in idealized scenes that depicted the richness and beauty of nature, sometimes also with emphasis on the grand scale of nature.
This tradition carries on in the works of Frederic Church, who idealizes an uninterrupted nature, highlighted by creating excruciatingly detailed art. The emphasis on nature is encouraged by the lack of people, low horizontal lines, and preponderance of sky to enhance the wilderness. The technical skill comes in the form of luminism, a Hudson River School innovation particularly present in Church’s works. Luminism is also cited as encompassing several technical aspects, which can be seen in Church’s works. One example is the attempt to “hide brushstrokes,” which makes the scene seem more realistic and lessen the artist’s presence in the work. Most importantly is the emphasis on light (hence luminism) in these scenes. The several sources of light create contrast in the pictures that highlights the beauty and detailed imagery in the painting.