Revisiting a frozen sea

Science and art in 19th century America

Frederic Edwin Church, The Iceberg, c. 1875, oil on canvas, 55.9 x 68.6 cm (Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1993.6), a Seeing America video. Speakers: Dr. Peter John Brownlee, Curator, Terra Foundation for American Art and Dr. Beth Harris

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Church, The Iceberg

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Key points

  • Frederick Church painted epic landscapes, traveling through the American West, South America, and the Arctic to sketch locations. Back in his studio, he would combine these sketches to create composite views that blended specific detail and idealized vistas.
  • Church was inspired by Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist who had traveled through South America and written extensively about his experience. This painting was also created during a time of growing awareness about the impact of industrialization on the natural world and the beginnings of conservationist efforts.

Go deeper

Learn more about Frederick Church and his blockbuster landscapes

Read about Church’s expedition to the Arctic in an account written by his travel companion, Louis Legrand Noble

Read an exhibition catalogue devoted to Church’s iceberg paintings

Learn more about Alexander von Humboldt and his exploration of the Americas

View the online version of the exhibition, Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture

Travel writing by Alexander von Humboldt at Project Gutenberg

“The pioneering maps of Alexander von Humboldt” at Smithsonian Magazine

More to think about

The video connects Frederic Church’s The Iceberg to contemporary environmental concerns. If you were creating a campaign to discuss climate change, do you think Church’s painting would be an effective image to use? Do you think this painting would be more, or less, effective than a photograph?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.