Frederic Church (1826 – 1900): Rainy Season in the Tropics

5/31/2021, 3:49:39 PM
Frederic Church (1826 – 1900): Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866, oil on canvas, 142.9 x 213.8 cm, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA Frederic Church occasionally painted dramatic natural phenomena that he saw during his travels to the Arctic and Central and South America. His interest in South American scenery was inspired by the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist. During his travels to South America, Humboldt was struck by the tremendous range of climates in Ecuador: icy mountaintops, grassy plains, and steamy jungles. Humboldt saw this diversity as evidence of the divine presence in the creation of the world. South America was a kind of Garden of Eden to which all other climates of the world -- and thus life itself -- could be linked. 'Rainy Season in the Tropics' depicts two separate places. The Ecuadorian Andes fill most of the canvas; at right the tropical forest represents a scene based on a sketch Church made during a trip to Jamaica in 1865. There has been some debate about the inspiration for the painting. Some scholars link this painting to the end of the Civil War; they believe that the rainbow connects the two landscapes, thereby symbolizing hope for the renewal and reunification of a divided America. Other scholars argue that the work is a response to the artist's sorrow at the death of two of his children in 1865. Both of these interpretations may be partly true, but we know from Church's sketches that he planned a large picture of a South American landscape with a double rainbow in 1863 -- a date well before he knew the outcome of the war or that his children would die. The meaning of Rainy Season in the Tropics is probably more general: it may simply represent the hope of regeneration following a storm and the divine promise symbolized by the rainbow. It is interesting to note how the hindsight that historians possess can be reflected in their interpretations of art.

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