The Mark Twain Papers & Project - Exhibit - Mark Twain Takes on Art - "The Most Wonderfully Beautiful Painting"


"The Most Wonderfully Beautiful Painting"

Frederic Edwin Church's panoramic Heart of the Andes, almost 10 feet wide, had attracted awed crowds in America and Britain since it was first exhibited in 1859. Clemens saw it in St. Louis in March 1861 and described it to his brother: . . . I have just returned from a visit to the most wonderfully beautiful painting which this city has ever seen—Church's "Heart of the Andes"—which represents a lovely valley with its rich vegetation in all the bloom and glory of a tropical summer. . . . We took the opera glass, and examined its beauties minutely, for the naked eye cannot discern the little wayside flowers, and soft shadows and patches of sunshine, and half-hidden bunches of grass and jets of water which form some of its most enchanting features. There is no slurring of perspective effect about it—the most distant—the minutest object in it has a marked and distinct personality—so that you may count the very leaves on the trees. . . . Your third visit will find your brain gasping and straining with futile efforts to take all the wonder in— . . . and understand how such a miracle could have been conceived and executed by human brain and human hands.

Samuel L. Clemens to Orion Clemens, 18 March 1861,
published in Mark Twain's Letters, Volume1: 1853-1866
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 117

Church's Heart of the Andes
Frederic Edwin Church, Heart of the Andes. 1859. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Scan by Mark Harden.

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