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Olana commemorates 150th anniversary of the Civil War

May 26th, 2011

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the fall of Fort Sumter, and the start of the Civil War. Olana’s exhibition: Rally ’round the Flag: Frederic Edwin Church and the Civil War on view in the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery at Olana is one of the first exhibitions in the multi-year, regional and national commemoration of the conflict.

The exhibition opens May 26 and runs through Oct. 30, 2011, and features Frederic Church’s most patriotic work, Our Banner in the Sky, a sensational sunrise resembling a Union flag, as well as numerous oil and pencil sketches related to the war and rarely on view. The exhibition is also the first retrospective of the very talented and little known artist John S. Jameson (1842-1864). A free public lecture by Dr. Kevin J. Avery, Frederic Church scholar and senior research fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art kicked-off the exhibition season on May 22, in the Wagon House Education Center at Olana.

Fort Sumter was bombarded by the newly formed Confederate States of America on April 11 and 12, 1865, launching the American Civil War. At the time, Church was preparing to debut his latest masterpiece at Goupil’s Gallery in New York City. His reaction was not to cancel the unveiling, but instead to re-title his painting of icebergs, The North, showing his support for the northern cause. Church also pledged the exhibition fees to the Union’s Patriotic Fund – a fund to aid the families of Union soldiers. Less than a month later, in a further act of nationalism Church painted a sunrise as a Union flag, Our Banner in the Sky, in response to the patriotic fever that swept the North. Church’s salute to the flag was published as a chromolithograph by Goupil & Co. and quickly became popular.

The renaming of his great picture, now known as The Icebergs, The North, and the creation of Our Banner in the Sky only represent Church’s initial reaction to the conflict. During the next five years, as the Civil War raged on, Church produced some of his most important works. And many reflected the turbulence of the war. The wonderful artistic source material for these epic paintings remains at Olana, and will be on view in the exhibition. The powerful and surging Under Niagara, 1862 (unlocated) was done from the lively oil sketch, Study for Under Niagara, 1858, in Olana’s collection.

As the war turned in favor of the Union, Church returned to the subject of the frozen north, inspired in part by a sketch on display by Isaac Hayes of Church’s Peak, a mountain the explorer named to honor the artist. This watercolor, and Church’s own oil sketch Aurora Borealis (also in the exhibition) informed his large celestial tour de force Aurora Borealis, of 1865 (American Museum of Art, Smithsonian). And after the war, the end of the conflict and the return of hope are reflected by the passing storm and rainbow in Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866 (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), worked out in a small compositional pencil sketch on view in the exhibition.

John S. Jameson was a young landscape painter described in Church’s own words as having an enormous talent and potential, whose life was tragically cut short when he died on August 31, 1864, at the age of 22 only months after enlisting in the Union army.

The eminent Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) designed Olana, his family home, studio, and estate as an integrated environment embracing architecture, art, and landscape. Considered one of the most important artistic residences in the United States, Olana is a landmark of picturesque landscape gardening with a Persian-inspired house at its summit, embracing unrivaled panoramic views of the vast Hudson Valley.

Olana is located at 5720 Route 9G in Hudson, NY. The grounds are open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset; guided house tours (reservations recommended) are available Tuesday through Sunday and holiday Mondays, May through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and include access to the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery; the last tour starts promptly at 4 p.m. Telephone: (518) 828-0135 for reservations and to confirm hours.

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