LEARN: Frederic Church's Olana
Frederic Church, one of the premier American landscape painters, will forever be associated with the Hudson River Valley, where he painted and made his home. Immensely popular in the mid-19th century, his paintings are characterized by a calmness and sense of hope.
Born in 1826 in Hartford, Connecticut, Church studied for several years with Thomas Cole, widely regarded as the first exponent of the Hudson River School of painting. Church moved to New York in 1849 and began his independent career. Within a year he became the youngest artist ever to be elected to the National Academy of Design - a distinction that remains to this day.
Church traveled widely throughout his career, using his sketches of New England, South America, Europe, the Arctic, and the Middle East, to create the transcendent landscapes that brought him fame, respect, and wealth. By the late 1870s, severe rheumatism had largely curtailed his career, although he continued to sketch at his home and many trips to Mexico in the 1880's and 1890's. Church spent most of his last twenty years at his estate on the Hudson River, Olana, finally dying in New York City in 1900.
What is Olana?
The name Olana first appeared written "Olâna" as the heading of a letter written by Isabel Church. A contemporary newspaper article credited Isabel for thinking of the name, explained as "the old Latin name for a place in Persia, to which the artist's home bears some resemblance in situation." Scholars have linked the name to a translated volume of Strabo's Geographica, a Christmas gift from Isabel to Frederic. Strabo's publication describes the geography of the Roman Empire and references the city "Olane," as one of the "treasure-storehouses" on the Araxes River, which offered a view of Mount Ararat, where Noah's ark was said to rest. It is likely that the Churches appreciated the associations this name had their own Persian-inspired stone "fortress" situated high above the Hudson River with majestic views west to America's promised land.
Built high on a hill near Hudson, NY between 1870 and 1891, then as now, the main house offers magnificent sweeping vistas of the Catskill Mountains, the Hudson River and the Taconic Hills. Today, Olana is a New York State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Hudson Valley and upstate New York.
Called by Church "the Center of the World," Olana's Persian-style house and 250-acres of picturesque grounds are a masterpiece as grand as any of his paintings.