The American painter Frederic Church, a renowned member of the Hudson School, undertook two extensive voyages to South America. He was an attentive reader of the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt’s writings regarding his journey to the Americas between 1799 and 1804. Following Humboldt’s example, Church traveled through Colombia and Ecuador in 1853, returning to Ecuadorian soil once again in 1857.
This small depiction of the Cotopaxi volcano was made during his first voyage to Ecuador. Cotopaxi, one of the volcanoes dotting the mountainous region of the Andes, constitutes one of the artist’s favorite and most frequently recurring subjects. As an observer with a scientific spirit, Church dedicated long hours to the contemplation of this mountain, adopting distinct points of view. The notes he took would later help him represent the mountain in a very realistic fashion, using innumerable details of its topography as well as its beauty.
The artist depicted the volcano in different phases of activity, from apparent dormancy, as in the case of this painting, to moments of violent eruption. In the background, the work reveals the conical form of the majestic volcano itself, around which Church organizes the entire composition. The spectator’s view is carried slowly down the river, across the Andean peaks and flora, and finally brought to rest on the peak of Cotopaxi, crowned with a snowy cap.