The Icebergs

"The Icebergs" is Frederic Edwin Church's masterpiece. The seductively inviting colors, glowing subterranean light, and glossy, tactile surfaces of the icebergs attract the viewer's eye. Yet in reality, the scene is an inhospitable place filled with danger, as the broken mast in the foreground indicates. When it was first exhibited at a Civil War fundraising exhibition, critics hailed it as "the most splendid work of art that has yet been produced in this country." Both sides of the Atlantic thrilled to this dramatic scene, which was based on sketches made by the artist during a monthlong chartered boat trip in the North Atlantic, off the Canadian coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. After its successful exhibition in England, "The Icebergs" was purchased by Sir William Edward Watkin, a railroad baron. Its subsequent history is almost as dramatic as the scene it represents: largely forgotten, the painting eventually wound up in the collection of an English school before being triumphantly rediscovered. It broke all American art records at auction in the 1970s, when it was purchased and donated to the Dallas Museum of Art by an anonymous benefactor.

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