After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/1159161451/

After Icebergs

In the summer of 1859, Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)—the most celebrated American landscape painter of his time—journeyed to Newfoundland and Labrador to study and sketch icebergs. Arctic exploration had captured the imagination of the public in the preceding decades, and Church was lured to the North Atlantic by accounts of a surreal polar landscape. To document the voyage, Church bought along Louis Legrand Noble, a clergyman and friend, who later published an account of the trip titled After Icebergs with a Painter. Moving day after day between a chartered schooner and a rowboat, Church grappled with how to capture the form, surface, colors, and motion of the icebergs before him and the luminous sea and sky that surrounded them. One hundred and sixty years later, Church's studies are at once seductive and frighteningly poignant. The icebergs found in today's oceans—caused by the melting of glaciers' edges—are a symptom of our rapidly warming Earth. These studies, drawn from Cooper Hewitt's collection of over 2,000 drawings by Church, offer us a moment to reflect with reverence on the fragility of our natural world.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18191605/

  • graphite on blue-gray paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18192493/

  • graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196343/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196347/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196351/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the early 20th century, the museum acquired thousands of drawings by artists. The museum’s founders believed that these sketches would help students of decorative arts understand the importance of drawing as a tool for comprehending our natural world. To this day, Church’s drawings inspire and inform, as they reveal the value of observing nature as part of the creative process.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196371/

  • graphite on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196379/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196399/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the early 20th century, the museum acquired thousands of drawings by artists. The museum’s founders believed that these sketches would help students of decorative arts understand the importance of drawing as a tool for comprehending our natural world. To this day, Church’s drawings inspire and inform, as they reveal the value of observing nature as part of the creative process.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196407/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196413/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196485/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the early 20th century, the museum acquired thousands of drawings by artists. The museum’s founders believed that these sketches would help students of decorative arts understand the importance of drawing as a tool for comprehending our natural world. To this day, Church’s drawings inspire and inform, as they reveal the value of observing nature as part of the creative process.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196551/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on thick buff wove paper

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196565/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on tan paperboard

“Icebergs, to the imaginative soul,” reflects Noble, “have a kind of individuality and life. They startle, frighten, awe; they astonish, excite, amuse, delight, and fascinate; clouds, mountains and structures, angels, demons, animals and men spring to the view of the beholder.”

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196605/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on paperboard

Church would spend anywhere from a few minutes to several hours sketching each iceberg, studying the form from different vantage points. After first sketching the outline of each iceberg in pencil, Church moved on to color studies using oil paint. In the sketch at left, the artist documented an iceberg breaking apart during his voyage to Battle Harbour, near Cape St.Lewis. Below, an earlier sketch recorded a different iceberg revolving after an avalanche.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196637/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on paperboard
  • artists
  • preparatory
  • painters
  • sketch
  • sea
  • ice
  • floating

For Church and Noble, the icebergs’ reflection of “every condition of atmosphere, and every amount of light and shadow” inspired awe. Sunset was a particularly dramatic opportunity that both Church and Noble relished. Noble writes, “If you would behold perfect brilliancy, gaze at the crest of an iceberg cutting sharply into [the] red heavens.” Eager to create opportunities to observe icebergs under different lighting conditions, Church and his companions once launched a flaming tar barrel over the side of their rowboat to illuminate an iceberg after dark.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196641/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on thin cream paperboard

The icebergs, in Noble’s words, “are a favorite playground of the lines, surfaces and shapes of the whole world, the heavens above, the earth and the waters under: of their sounds, motions and colors also.” Yet Church also realized that only a small portion of each iceberg was visible to him. The “exquisite opalescent blue-green” at the base indicated a larger mass of ice beneath the surface.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196649/

  • brush and oil paint on paperboard

Church’s hunt for icebergs led to frequent deviations from the ship’s planned course, in particular when they spotted what Noble describes as “a white pinnacle just pricking above the horizon.” In these sketches, Church accentuated the icebergs against vast, abstract expanses of sea.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196655/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on blue-green wove paper

Church would spend anywhere from a few minutes to several hours sketching each iceberg, studying the form from different vantage points. After first sketching the outline of each iceberg in pencil, Church moved on to color studies using oil paint. In the sketch at left, the artist documented an iceberg breaking apart during his voyage to Battle Harbour, near Cape St.Lewis. Below, an earlier sketch recorded a different iceberg revolving after an avalanche.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196667/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on blue-green wove paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

Between bouts of seasickness, Church produced nearly 100 studies of icebergs during his 6-week arctic expedition. Immersed in the pristine landscape, he was entranced by the eerie, translucent beauty of the floating ice. Here, amidst an array of delicately rendered icebergs, Church describes their forms as “strange” and “supernatural.”

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196751/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on buff paperboard

“Every curve, swell and depression have the finish of the most exquisite sculpture, and all drips with silvery water as if newly risen from the deep,” records Noble as he and Church approached an iceberg off Fogo, Newfoundland towering above their ship. Church revered the sheer monumentality of the icebergs, referring to their forms as “ice-architecture.”

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196757/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on cardboard

“I know of no object in all nature so marvelously sensitive to a steady gaze,” writes Noble. Constantly in motion, icebergs permeate the boundary between ocean and sky. Church observed icebergs dazzling in the sun, adopting the hues of the world around them as light played upon their surfaces. Bands of translucent ice formed by cracks in the glacier shimmered as sapphire and turquoise veins.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196927/

  • brush and white gouache, graphite on brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the early 20th century, the museum acquired thousands of drawings by artists. The museum’s founders believed that these sketches would help students of decorative arts understand the importance of drawing as a tool for comprehending our natural world. To this day, Church’s drawings inspire and inform, as they reveal the value of observing nature as part of the creative process.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18196961/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18197489/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18197501/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18197509/

  • graphite on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18197517/

  • graphite on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18197523/

  • graphite on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

In the far North, Church encountered a landscape of water and ice. His sketches reveal a fascination with the varied forms of icebergs, shaped by the elements. Waves, currents, sunshine, and storms acted on each iceberg to produce unique surface patterns. Some icebergs revealed fresh fractures, sharply cut like broken porcelain. Others were rounded and polished by the weather.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18198435/

  • graphite, brush and white gouache on light brown paper
  • Gift of Louis P. Church

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18200951/

  • brush and oil paint on paperboard

For Church and Noble, the icebergs’ reflection of “every condition of atmosphere, and every amount of light and shadow” inspired awe. Sunset was a particularly dramatic opportunity that both Church and Noble relished. Noble writes, “If you would behold perfect brilliancy, gaze at the crest of an iceberg cutting sharply into [the] red heavens.” Eager to create opportunities to observe icebergs under different lighting conditions, Church and his companions once launched a flaming tar barrel over the side of their rowboat to illuminate an iceberg after dark.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18200991/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on paperboard

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18201151/

  • brush and oil paint, graphite on thin buff wove paper

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18201287/

  • brush and oil paint on paper

Church’s hunt for icebergs led to frequent deviations from the ship’s planned course, in particular when they spotted what Noble describes as “a white pinnacle just pricking above the horizon.” In these sketches, Church accentuated the icebergs against vast, abstract expanses of sea.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18201295/

  • brush and oil paint on cardboard

Church’s hunt for icebergs led to frequent deviations from the ship’s planned course, in particular when they spotted what Noble describes as “a white pinnacle just pricking above the horizon.” In these sketches, Church accentuated the icebergs against vast, abstract expanses of sea.

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18201321/

  • brush and oil paint on paperboard

“Icebergs, to the imaginative soul,” reflects Noble, “have a kind of individuality and life. They startle, frighten, awe; they astonish, excite, amuse, delight, and fascinate; clouds, mountains and structures, angels, demons, animals and men spring to the view of the beholder.”

After Icebergs

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798285/

  • book
  • Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Church and Noble embarked on their voyage on the steamship Merlin from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to St. John’s, Newfoundland in June 1859. In St. John’s, they chartered the schooner Integrity to take them to the icebergs, making observations and sailing among ice floes until late July. Church planned to use his studies from the trip to create a monumental canvas. Noble observed Church at work and recorded their shared adventures in After Icebergs with a Painter. The book, published in 1861, coincided with the unveiling of Church’s painting The North (The Icebergs). Publication of After Icebergs tapped into a growing market for stories and images of the far North. Polar exploration had begun earlier in the 19th century with Admiral Parry’s search for the northwest passage. Public interest grew in 1845, when British explorer Sir John Franklin and his entire expedition mysteriously disappeared in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.